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Leonardo da Vinci’s rule for how trees branch was close, but wrong

Leonardo da Vinci was wrong about trees.

The multitalented, Renaissance genius wrote down his “rule of trees” over 500 years ago. It described the way he thought that trees branch. Though it was a brilliant insight that helped him to draw realistic landscapes, Leonardo’s rule breaks down for many types of trees. Now, a new branching rule — dubbed “Leonardo-like” — works for virtually any leafy tree, researchers report in a paper accepted April 13 in Physical Review E.

“The older Leonardo rule describes the thickness of the branches, while the length of the branch was not taken into account,” says physicist Sergey Grigoriev of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in Gatchina, Russia. “Therefore, the description using the older rule is not complete.”

Leonardo’s rule says that the thickness of a limb before it branches into smaller ones is the same as the combined thickness of the limbs sprouting from it (SN: 6/1/11). But according to Grigoriev and his colleagues, it’s the surface area that stays the same.

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