By Chelsea Reed
What if we told you a tree could transform into a gemstone? Believe it or not, it can! The result is called petrified wood, and it’s prized by jewelers, carvers, and collectors all over the world. Petrified wood is not actually wood, but it begins that way. The wood goes through a special fossilization process that replaces each wood cell with a gem mineral. The result? A gorgeous gem representation of the original wood structure - rings, bark, and all.
The enshrouded stories that surround petrified wood are fascinating and sometimes stranger than fiction. Buckle your seatbelt as we dive into the secret life of petrified wood!
The story of petrified wood begins when a tree “dies.” The wood must be buried and preserved in a special way to become petrified. A tree knocked down by a volcanic eruption and covered in ash is a good example. The ash blanket prevents the oxygen in the air from rotting the wood.. Over time, underground water runs through the wood and deposits trace minerals. That’s when something amazing happens - a unique phenomenon called pseudomorphism!
Pseudomorphism is simply the process of organic matter being replaced with minerals that keep its original shape. That’s how wood transforms into petrified wood! Far away from human eyes, tiny deposits of iron, silica, pyrite, and even opal replace the original wood material. These minerals preserve the wood’s structure down to the molecule level.
It can take as long as thousands of years or as little as a few months for petrified wood to form. Wow! Many petrified wood specimens are ancient. Scientists study them to learn what earth’s forests were like in prehistoric times. You can see the bark, tree rings, and even the wood grain in petrified wood. People today enjoy them as jewelry, home decor, and novelty items.
Petrified wood is a common fossil, but perfect petrified wood specimens are rare. They are also highly valuable on the market. The largest area of petrified wood in the United States is Petrified Forest National Park. There, prized specimens are found in their unspoiled native environment. Hundreds of gem “logs” are strewn about in the wild canyons, left alone for thousands of years. But the best story comes from a mountain of petrified wood specimens near the park facility.
Park rangers dub the mound as the “Conscience Pile” because all the petrified wood in the mound had been stolen from the park! Over the years, guilty thieves mailed their smuggled prizes back to the Park Service to clear their consciences. Many of them enclosed apologetic letters. Some thought that a curse might fall on them if they didn’t return the petrified wood. Others included maps to help the rangers put the petrified wood back to their original locations. None of the smuggled specimens, however, can be returned to the exact spot for legal reasons. So they stay in the Conscience Pile as a reminder of their bizarre testament.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go on a smuggling heist to get your hands on quality petrified wood! Our specimens at Michael’s Gems and Glass are gorgeous gifts for any occasion. These petrified wood bookends, for example, are a great choice for the home or office. Once they see the lovely grain in each piece, they’ll know you have good taste.
Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes online content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina.