Romanesco Broccoli is gorgeous. As in jaw-dropping, stop-dead-in-your-tracks gorgeous (at least it is to me, which is probably an evolutionary maladaption which will cause me to spend the rest of my life single and picking broccoli in the rain). 😉
ANYWAY … if symmetry is what makes one human face stand out as unusually beautiful, then a head of romanesco, with its perfectly exhibited geometric whirl, is a face of nature with legendary beauty. Regular broccoli and cauliflower follow the same pattern, but are not as flashy.
The pattern this vegetable illustrates is also called a fractal. According to my computer’s dictionary, the definition of fractal is:
“a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation.”
So this head of romanesco is a fractal because repeating units create the same spiraling pattern at three scales: the mini-floret, floret, and head. The geometry of each mini-floret, the geometry of each floret, and the geometry of the head as a whole are exactly the same.
So “fractal” in this case describes the 3 tiered spiral structure, but the spiral shape itself has also been described in math, and named a logarithmic spiral.
I vaguely remember learning about logarithms in high school, and honestly still can’t quite wrap my mind around the concept, but looking at this head of broccoli actually helps illustrate the idea.
In a logarithmic spiral, the interior shape of the spiral stays the same even as it grows. So the tiniest buds at the center of the head have the exact same shape as the large florets at the outer edge of the head. That makes it possible to have the exact same shape spiral at several levels of size. Or at least that’s what I’m thinking right now…
The wikipedia article for logatithmic spiral has some good illustrations.
This all might seem complicated, but really I think its just complicated to explain in human language. This spiral is common in nature (think hurricanes, galaxies, snail shells …), which goes to show that there are certain ways of organizing matter and growing that simply make sense in nature. Somehow repetition of a single unit over and over comes together to creates an immensely beautiful, and practical, whole. Beautifully simple and simply beautiful. It’s a topic worth thinking more about … while enjoying a dinner of romanesco broccoli (steamed with a dab of butter on top; simple is the way to go for this vegetable).