Nature / Travel / USA

Woody Woodpecker Will Hate This Tree

Petrified Wood

In nature, many things are astounding. Birds that migrate using the earth’s magnetic field. Bloodhounds that can smell as few as 1-2 cells to track the scent of a human. A living tree over 5,000 years old. These animals and plants are astounding, but there are some natural phenomena that are miraculous. For me, petrified wood falls in this category.

Petrified wood isn’t just a tree that’s been turned to stone.

J Petrified Wood

It’s a tree which, in some cases, has had its bark, wood, and even cells replaced by stone. This stump in the petrified forest in Theodore Roosevelt National Park looks exactly like wood … except it weighs hundreds of pounds.

Log 2

There’s some disagreement in the scientific community as to exactly how this miracle occurs, but most people agree that:

  • A fallen tree is buried in sediment, which blocks oxygen and organisms, protecting it from rot.
  • Volcanic ash blankets the ground over the buried tree.
  • Water leeches through the ash on the surface, carrying silica minerals to the buried tree.
  • Over a long period of time the minerals replace the organic components of the wood.

I bought this small piece of petrified wood in a rock shop when I lived in Oregon. I love this sample for the incredible detail of the remaining wood structure. The growth rings are so well preserved, they can be counted.

Rock 1

Rock 2

There are a number of sites with petrified trees all over the world. The most famous in the US is the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. But wherever you see them, these trees are miracles.


Happy Trails,


Photo Credits:
6. Jonathan Zander via Wikimedia Commons

41 thoughts on “Woody Woodpecker Will Hate This Tree

    • Yes they can be dated Terri, and these fossils are 55 million years old (give or take a million or so). And I agree that it’s a fascinating process It’s amazing to me when everything comes together to make it happen. ~James

  1. I thought it took thousands of years to produce petrified wood. If so I wanna know who/what sliced and diced up those trees in the first and sixth pictures?

    • Good question Alison. Petrified wood is primarily quartz, which is very hard, but it’s also brittle. Quartz has something called “cleavage angles” which are natural planes along which it splits. Over time, these long, single pieces of quartz broke along these cleavage angles. But you’re right, they do look like someone has cut them. ~James

  2. The piece you bought is beautiful.
    I remember stopping in the Petrified Forest when I was a teenager and being disappointed. It was pretty, but I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Old stuff… 😉

    • Juliann, I studied geology at university, but I’m sure that if I had seen petrified wood as a teenager, I would have given it a big yawn as well. Nature of the beast I guess. ~James

    • Thanks Pam. I agree that geology is fascinating, but as a geologist, I’m probably a bit biased. One thing for sure, it’s all around us, and there’s no escaping it. So a bit of geologic knowledge can make things lots more interesting. ~James

      • I didn’t realize you were a geologist! I’ve just always liked rocks, along with all the natural sciences. Last time we moved the moving guy said “What is in this box? Rocks?” He wasn’t expecting my answer of yes.

      • Thanks Pam. You’ve pointed out the ultimate “rock hound’s” dilemma: What do I do with all these heavy rocks? As you may have noticed, we move around a great deal, and over the years, I’ve been forced to slowly downsize my collection. Finally, a few years ago, I chucked the lot. I did this in Dallas, Tx. I wasn’t happy about it, but I chuckled at the thought that 100,000 years from now some poor geologist will be scratching his or her head to figure out how on earth this eclectic collection of rocks came to be there. LOL. ~James

      • Smile! If you ever have special rocks you would like to unload to an appreciative person, let me know! I have a “museum” in my home office.

    • Thanks Virginia, I had never heard of this movie. I checked it on wiki, and it must be very good. It was a play, then a movie, then it was done live on radio. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy. ~James

    • Thanks, I haven’t heard of this area, so I checked it out online, and it looks cool. I really enjoy these badlands areas. There are also some of these red rock areas in Colorado as well. ~James

  3. Love this post. You did a great job of explaining the process. Have you heard of the experiments they’ve done where replacement and mineralization has taken place much quicker than anyone realized was possible? I don’t have much in the way of detail on it, or even if any of the experiments are directly analogous to petrifaction. But it’s interesting to consider how long it takes. Did you ever get to the sites around Fossil, Oregon that have petrified wood? There’s even a standing tree, with fossilized root traces.

    • Thanks for the comment, and for dropping by the blog. I lived in Oregon for a while, but most of my time was on the coast, so I didn’t explore the east as much as I would’ve liked. Fossil sounds interesting. I googled experiments for quick petrification, and I must admit, that I don’t buy it. Most of the sites I saw were religious types intent on proving that the earth is not nearly as old as geologists say. There may be instances of faster mineralization, but using it as an earth-dating technique doesn’t work for me. ~James

      • Hahaha! I should have known that would be out there, and it’s definitely not what I’m talking about. As I recall (it was several years ago) it was a Univ. of N. Carolina study and definitely real science. They were expecting to run the experiment for decades and were very surprised. But that’s all I remember. You’re right it would be a minefield to try and google. Funny!

  4. Wow what fabulous examples of petrified trees you seem to have just lying around? I think things like that are so incredibly interesting and exciting. We have a submerged forest around our coast which I wrote about, but your petrified forest is something else, thank you

    • Thanks for the comment Mike, and for dropping by the blog. I lived in England (London) for a few years, and hadn’t heard of the submerged forests. Interesting stuff. Also, I visited your blog and listened to some or your music, and it’s very good. I’ll have to visit the itunes store and download a few tunes. ~James

  5. “Wooden” it be great to visit all of these places? Thanks for sharing some of your visits to the petrified forests. My father graduated from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, which is in an area full of geologic wonders. Petrified wood was one of the first “rocks” I collected — from a gift shop….

    • Catherine, it certainly “wood” be nice to visit all these places. Until I did of bit of research for this post, I didn’t realize that there were so many international sites with petrified wood. Interesting about your father. What was his speciality, and did he work in the mining industry?

      • He was an aeronautical engineer for Boeing. His degree was in mechanical engineering with a specialty in hydraulics. He started out in landing gear, etc. Later, as he moved up the ranks, he got to do all sorts of interesting projects.

        Even though, he wasn’t in the Mines studies of his college, our visits there got me interested so I took geology classes in college.

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