Pinnation (also called pennation) is the arrangement of feather-like or multi-divided features arising from both sides of a common axis. Pinnation occurs in biological morphology, in crystals,[1] such as some forms of ice or metal crystals,[2][3] and in patterns of erosion or stream beds.[4]

The term derives from the Latin word pinna meaning "feather", "wing", or "fin". A similar concept is pectination, which is a comb-like arrangement of parts (arising from one side of an axis only). Pinnation is commonly referred to in contrast to palmation, in which the parts or structures radiate out from a common point. The terms pinnation and pennation are cognate, and although they are sometimes used distinctly, there is no consistent difference in the meaning or usage of the two words.[5][6]


Botanically, pinnation is an arrangement of discrete structures (such as leaflets, veins, lobes, branches, or appendages) arising at multiple points along a common axis. For example, once-divided leaf blades having leaflets arranged on both sides of a rachis are pinnately compound leaves. Many palms (notably the feather palms) and most cycads and grevilleas have pinnately divided leaves. Most species of ferns have pinnate or more highly divided fronds, and in ferns the leaflets or segments are typically referred to as "pinnae" (singular "pinna"). Plants with pinnate leaves are sometimes colloquially called "feather-leaved". Most of the following definitions are from Jackson's Glossary of Botanical Terms:[6]

Depth of divisions

  • pinnatifid and pinnatipartite: leaves with pinnate lobes that are not discrete, remaining sufficiently connected to each other that they are not separate leaflets.
  • pinnatisect: cut all the way to the midrib or other axis, but with the bases of the pinnae not contracted to form discrete leaflets.
  • pinnate-pinnatifid: pinnate, with the pinnae being pinnatifid.
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