Monday, 3 December 2018

Nature's Symmetry - a flower hunt

Spring and early summer is a time for flowering. Many herbs, vines, trees and other plants in the wild have been putting on a colourful show.  I always enjoy seeing the great variety of colour, shape and size, but a recent discovery in the forest set me thinking about symmetry. 

Although kiekie vines are often in abundance in our temperate rainforest I've rarely seen a flower. A friend found this one when we were hiking in the Tararua Forest Park. The flower is striking in its '3 part' symmetry. 
kiekie flower (about 30cm wide)
Symmetry is pleasing to the eye. We often look with pleasure on patterns that repeat in some way. So for children (and adults) seeking out symmetry in nature can be a fun and engaging nature activity.

Symmetry can be reflective - where one half of the flower is a mirror image of the other. That's not quite the case with the kiekie because of the central flower parts. But symmetry can also be rotational, in this case rotate the flower around its centre point by 120 degrees and it's more or less identical.

Here are some tiny orchids with reflective symmetry.
Caladenia orchid showing line of symmetry
Winika orchid
odd leaved orchid
Some flowers have both reflective and rotational symmetry! These five petal flowers have a central line of reflective symmetry and can also be rotated around a central point (by one-fifth of 360 degrees).
poroporo
shore bindweed (native)
shore bindweed (native)
Activity idea
All the flowers shown here are native to New Zealand but you are just as likely to find examples of symmetry in introduced garden flowers and weeds as well. Take the kids or grandkids off on a 'symmetry' hunt and look for patterns in nature. Pick some flowers and put them into categories based on their symmetry. Take photos or sketch them.

Want to do more?
Thinking about symmetry reminds me of the paper snowflakes we used to make at Christmas time. For a Southern hemisphere Christmas, paper flowers are a more fitting symbol!

Here are some ideas for making paper flowers using origami paper and a pair of scissors. Kids would have fun making their own multi-petalled and decorative flowers.
Making a six petal flower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8JW9Mlz1dw
Making a five petal flower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pXs-s4pUW0

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