Written and photographed by Martin Schuyler

If you ask people what their favorite number is, the most common answer worldwide is seven. The exact reason for this is unclear, but humans are not the only ones to have favorite numbers — nature has them as well. The person who introduced nature’s favorite numbers to Europe more than eight hundred years ago was Italian mathematician, Leonardo Fibonacci. We are indebted to Fibonacci for popularizing the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals that we use today in place of the complex Roman numeral system. But his most famous contribution to mathematics was the Fibonacci series. A mathematical series is simply a string of numbers arranged according to a rule. In the Fibonacci series, the first two numbers are one. Each successive number is simply the sum of the two preceding numbers. The series goes on forever, but the first ten numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.

So, as you can see, three is a Fibonacci number and four is not — which brings us to the clovers. Although four-leaf clovers do exist, they are exceptionally rare, occurring in just one in 10,000 cases. Nature greatly prefers to produce three-leaf clovers. You do not have to look far to find other examples of Fibonacci numbers in nature. Pick up any pinecone and count the number of left-leaning or right-leaning spirals as you go around the cone. The number will vary depending on the pinecone, but it will always be a Fibonacci number. Now, look at any flower and count the number of petals or count the number of sections on a sand dollar. Once again, it is usually a Fibonacci number.

Fibonacci numbers also show up in unexpected places. Take any number from the series and divide it by the previous number. As you go up in the series, that ratio quickly approaches 1.618, the golden ratio of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks felt that a rectangle with this ratio between the long and short sides was the most aesthetically pleasing of any rectangle and are believed to have used the golden ratio in their architecture. Today, the Fibonacci series is still finding real-world applications in fields such as computer science and finance.

Fibonacci Fun
For a game with friends or family, go outdoors, set a timer for thirty minutes and see who can find the most examples of Fibonacci numbers.

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