Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Slash pine cone

Slash pine cone, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

Bah, humbug! Because of a bad cold, the flu, or maybe even allergies I haven’t been sketching as much, and missed my weekend trip to paint outdoors. Since I was confined inside and resting, I thought I’d tackle the intricacies of this pine cone. This cone is from a slash pine tree in our yard, probably left there when the house was built.

I believe that the existing habitat in our immediate area was a mixture of pine flatwoods and palmetto, with the beginnings of live oak encroachment on the edges and a few scrubby regions. You can see the pattern of mature trees in the surrounding residential neighborhood and a nearby golf course.

An interesting thing about pine cones is the pattern the scales make as they spiral around the core. Needless to say, this pleasing pattern is a pain to draw! I ended up scanning the actual pine cone and mapping out the spirals in Photoshop to get them right (see photo below).  I knew that many spiral patterns in nature are related to the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, but had to do a bit of research to investigate why. In my pine cone, there is one set of 5 spirals (the white lines) and one set of 8 spirals (the green lines); both are sequential numbers in the Fibonacci series (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8…).

I found this interesting web site about pine cones and the Fibonnaci numbers. They show the same spiral overlays to count that I resorted to using – with an interactive twist. They mention an insight as to why cones and other structures may develop this way: since Fibonnaci numbers are a close approximation to irrational numbers, the scales (which cover the seeds inside) will not line up with one another, thus making the cone stronger.

You can click on the top image to view it larger on my Flickr photostream!