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How Does Wood Petrify?

Updated on December 12, 2010

Petrified Wood

Petrify literally means turn to stone, so petrified wood means wood turning into stone. Petrified wood has been found in all 50 states and around the world. Many of the areas with the highest concentrations have been turned into state or national parks to protect the wood from being depleted by collectors and vendors.

There Are Two Types of Petrification.

The first type is where all or almost all of the organic matter is replaced by mineral matter. The wood retains its external shape but most or all of the internal cellular structure is destroyed.

In the second type, called permineralization, the cells and other spaces are filled with mineral matter but the original organic matter does not change. This preserves the cellular detail which can be observed under a microscope.

Conditions for Petrification

For either of these processes to occur, trees must fall and be covered in sediment. This cuts off the oxygen and slows the decay. Groundwater containing silica seeps through the wood either totally replacing the organic matter or just replacing the cell contents and spaces leaving the structures intact. Eventually the silica crystallizes into quartz thereby preserving the wood. Depending on the circumstances, this can take millions of years or be accomplished in a relatively shorter timeframe. One clue is whether the logs are still round or more flattened. The rounder ones have petrified quicker before the heavy sediment could flatten them.

Where Do the Colors Come From?

The colors in petrified wood come from the various minerals in the silica water. Iron, carbon, manganese and sometimes cobalt and chromium produce various shades of yellow, red, black, blue, purples, brown, white and pink. Some of the logs are very beautiful.

How Heavy is Petrified Wood?

Petrified wood is very heavy. A cubic foot can weigh up to almost 200 pounds. It is also very hard. Using the hardness scale of 1-10 it is a 7.

Petrified Forest National Park

Most of the logs in the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona were petrified by the first type. It does have some examples of the second type in the Black Forest. The logs there are mostly black. There are even examples where both types of petrification can be found in the same log. Some of the logs that were hollow or had cracks allowed various types of quartz crystals to grow, including amethyst, rose quartz, smoky quartz and rock crystal quartz. Examples of these can be found in the Crystal Forest.

Crystal Forest - Petrified Forest National Park

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Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Most of the logs in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah were formed by the second process.

The following photos were all shot of the same log, which was approximately 8-10 feet long.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

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Savor the Beauty

Only petrified wood on private lands may be collected and sold. It is illegal to gather any wood in the state and national parks. So savor the beauty, photograph it and leave it there for future generations to enjoy.

All photos are original images by the author. All rights reserved.

 

Sources:

Petrified Forest - A STORY IN STONE by Sidney Ash

DNR brochures from: Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah

 

 

Read More About Petrified Word

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    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      4 years ago

      You are right - that is strange! Now I am wondering why again!! Thanks for reading and commenting, Ihoxie.

    • lhoxie profile image

      Linda Hoxie 

      4 years ago from Idaho

      Very cool hub, I learned a lot. But what I find strange is; assuming it takes hundreds of years for the logs to petrify, they are all cut up, like you would cut wood with a chain saw. Very strange!

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      5 years ago

      You are welcome, xander. Sounds like a great field trip!

    • profile image

      xander 

      5 years ago

      I wanted to know because I just went to Montgomery for a feild trip withna tour guide who told us about it but not the way it was formed so thankyou for the information bye, ':)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      6 years ago

      Thank you MyWebs! After I saw all these beautiful pieces of petrified wood, my inquiring mind wanted to know how it was created also.

    • MyWebs profile image

      Anthony Goodley 

      6 years ago from Sheridan, WY

      After a friend recently gave me a small piece of petrified wood I decided to Google 'How Does Wood Petrify?' to learn how wood turns to stone and found your hub ranking highly on Google. Very well done Rose for this informative hub and all the great pictures.

      The small branch he gave me feels like it may not totally be petrified yet since you can feel the wood texture. It is a natural brown color and has it's original round shape.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      7 years ago

      After I saw all the beautiful petrified wood, I had to find out how it came to be! Thanks for stopping by Suzie - glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 

      7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Loved this Hub. Petrified wood is something you know about but have no idea how it came to be that way. Now I know. Thanks.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Kolowinski 

      7 years ago

      Thank you very much, De Greek. I have always been fascinated by petrified wood. I visited a couple of forests on a recent trip so I had to know how such beauty forms. Thanks for stopping by!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      7 years ago from UK

      What an interesting hub this is! Well done :-)

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