Cauliflower fractal forms arise from perturbations of floral gene networks.

Throughout development, plant meristems regularly produce organs in defined spiral, opposite, or whorl patterns. Cauliflowers present an unusual organ arrangement with a multitude of spirals nested over a wide range of scales. How such a fractal, self-similar organization emerges from developmental mechanisms has remained elusive. Combining experimental analyses in an Arabidopsis thaliana cauliflower-like mutant with modeling, we found that curd self-similarity arises because the meristems fail to form flowers but keep the “memory” of their transient passage in a floral state. Additional mutations affecting meristem growth can induce the production of conical structures reminiscent of the conspicuous fractal Romanesco shape. This study reveals how fractal-like forms may emerge from the combination of key, defined perturbations of floral developmental programs and growth dynamics.