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Most but not all foliage decoration in the preceding cultures terminated at the edge of the occupied space, although infinitely repeatable patterns in foliage are very common in the modern world in wallpaper and textiles.

Typically, in earlier forms there is no attempt at realism; no particular species of plant is being imitated, and the forms are often botanically impossible or implausible.

"Leaf" forms typically spring sideways from the stem, in what is often called a "half-palmette" form, named after its distant and very different looking ancestor in ancient Egyptian and Greek ornament.

New stems spring from leaf-tips, a type often called honeysuckle, and the stems often have no tips, winding endlessly out of the space.

The case for a connection with Islamic mathematics is much stronger for the development of the geometric patterns with which arabesques are often combined in art.

Geometric decoration often uses patterns that are made up of straight lines and regular angles that somewhat resemble curvilinear arabesque patterns; the extent to which these too are described as arabesque varies between different writers.

The relatively abundant survivals of stucco reliefs from the walls of palaces (but not mosques) in Abbasid Samarra, the Islamic capital between 836 and 892, provide examples of three styles, Styles A, B, and C, though more than one of these may appear on the same wall, and their chronological sequence is not certain.At the popular level such theories often appear uninformed as to the wider context of the arabesque.In similar fashion, proposed connections between the arabesque and Arabic knowledge of geometry remains a subject of debate; not all art historians are persuaded that such knowledge had reached, or was needed by, those creating arabesque designs, although in certain cases there is evidence that such a connection did exist.The plants most often used are stylized versions of the acanthus, with its emphasis on leafy forms, and the vine, with an equal emphasis on twining stems.The evolution of these forms into a distinctive Islamic type was complete by the 11th century, having begun in the 8th or 9th century in works like the Mshatta Facade.

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