Patterns in Nature

Patterns play a key role in design, from a Permaculture perspective. Nature loves patterns and we can find them everywhere and anywhere!

“When we see how the branching of trees resembles the branching of arteries and the branching of rivers, how crystal grains look like soap bubbles and the plates of a tortoise’s shell, how the fiddle heads of ferns, stellar galaxies, and water emptying from the bathtub spiral in a similar manner, then we cannot help but wonder why nature uses only a few kindred forms in so many contexts… It turns out that those patterns and forms are particularly restricted, that the immense variety that nature creates emerges from the working and reworking of only a few formal themes”

– Peter S. Stephens ‘Patterns in Nature’

Trees and Photos on Pinterest

Natural systems are composed entirely of elements that are flowing and are in a process of moving from one place to another. The landscape can be seen as a collection of flowing elements moving in curves and waves.

To flow is the movement from one point or place to another.

In this definition we have both the idea that there is something, an element, flowing and that there is a medium or channel this thing is flowing through.

So here are some patterns that exist within nature.

  1. Dendritic Pattern

    When ever you are moving anything from a point to a volume the branching pattern is going to be the most energy conservative bway to organize that flow.

  • Branching, tree-like shape.
  • Concentration and dispersal.
  • Mycelial growth
  • Spreading out from the center in the most efficient way possible to bring in as many nutrients as it can.
  • Increase of surface area, exposure to more nutrients and water to pull up into its form.
  • The most energy conservative way to organise a flow from a point to a volume.
  • Dendritic stream patterns
dentritic patterns
dentritic patterns

2. Sinuous Pattern

We get this pattern whenever we have a (more or less) smooth flow of materials through a (more or less) uniform medium.

Sinuous Patterns

3. Spiral Pattern

  • Continuous outward growth.
  • Maximises strength and structure.
  • Packing a lot of information and material into a small space.
Spiral Patterns
Spiral Patterns

4. Logarithmic Spiral (Fibonacci Sequence or Summation Series)

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Fibonacci sequence
Fibonacci Sequence
Fibonacci Sequence
Milpa system
Milpa system

5. Scatter Pattern

The pattern thats not a pattern, as the leafs fall to the floor or blowing a dandelion flower and watching the seeds fly away in a random dispersion.

  • Random or explosion dispersal to maximise diversity and cover
Scatter pattern

Patterns are great, and super cool. They can help to read the landscape and begin to design on the landscape. By first observing how elements flow naturally, we can begin to design with that in mind to maximise efficiency of the flow of elements.

From the smallest particles to the largest hurricanes to how our galaxy is arranged, this unfurling of motion in both time and space creates an epic conversion of energy into form. It’s a form that generates energy, saves energy, and allows for evolution to occur on a geologic scale which can be incomprehensible.

– Doug Crouch

Click here to read more on understanding patterns.

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