Why Does Fractal Broccoli Look Like It Belongs in ‘Star Wars’?

Matching Yoda's skin tone is a pretty good start. 


In The Force Awakens, the twisted green snack served to Rey in Maz Kanata’s pirate castle looks decidedly alien. Look a bit closer and you’ll discover it’s actually a terrestrial native: Romanesco broccoli.

Not that it makes a difference where it comes from. The cabbage relative — which looks like the hybrid spawn of a cauliflower, a Christmas tree, and Yoda — barely resembles a vegetable, let alone one you’d expect to find on Earth.

Its otherworldly look is often chalked up to its logarithmically perfect structure. Deep math nerds refer to it as “fractal broccoli” because its florets follow the pattern of the Fibonacci or “golden” spiral; each big, spiraling floret is made up of slightly smaller ones, which are made up of even smaller ones, and so on. If you measure any spiral’s radius at each quarter turn, it’s always going to be further from the origin by a factor of phi — the golden ratio.

But why we don’t think twice about it belonging on Maz’s pub menu has more to do with the fact that the thing practically looks sentient because of its disconcertingly precise appearance. Just look at each of those freaky, ordered little buds — like individual coral polyp growing evenly out of a stone skeleton, couldn’t they be alive too? Unexpected sentience — like the hidden asteroid worm in The Empire Strikes Back or the stone fish in The Phantom Menace — is one of the most consistently entertaining surprises in George Lucas’ galaxy. If an Earthen life form had to be cast in the new movie, it makes sense that it’d be the most intelligent-looking vegetable known to humankind.

What’s ironic is that we have hard time making sense of this thing when, at least mathematically speaking, it makes a lot more sense than we do, with all of our physical aberrations and skewed proportions. Would any pub meal be more befitting of the galaxy’s potential last Jedi?