Petrified Wood 101

Today I want to talk to you about petrified wood.

Petrified Wood: from the Greek root petro meaning “rock” or “stone”; literally “wood turned into stone” (Wikipedia)

Petrified wood
Petrified wood

What the heck does petrified wood have to do with farming or tourism or the day to day goings on at Seaweed and Sod Farm? Well, petrified wood is a unique feature here on Boularderie Island* and there is an abundance of it right here in Kempt Head.

I’m a Rock Hound from way back. To this day I cannot walk along the shore and come home with empty pockets. Imagine my delight when I discovered that our shore (and fields) are plentiful with Petrified Wood. Even better, our neighbour Bob is a self-proclaimed expert on the subject. Be careful when you start the conversation – he lights right up and his wife just rolls her eyes – he loves to talk petrified wood. He’ll talk to you for hours about it!

Bob is old-school (which is okay because he is 93 years old) so his notes are typewritten pages with handwritten edits. I am going to transcribe them onto the computer so that he will have an electronic version. I started to work on it today but they are very technical and as I’m trying to have an easier day I have postponed that project.

But, I still want to talk about petrified wood as it is an interesting and unique feature of this particular area. This is what I’ve learned from skimming through Bob’s notes this afternoon…and I’ve tried to keep it simple.

This particular petrified wood is from an ancient tree called the Cordaites. From what I can gather so far, 300 million years ago Cape Breton was down near the equator and our vegetation was similar to what the Florida Everglades are today. The Cordaites tree grew to about 100 – 150 feet tall with a trunk 2 – 6 feet in diameter. The long slender leaves were 39 inches long and about 6 inches wide. It is generally believed that this tree is an ancestor of today’s coniferous trees.

Boularderie Island was part of a flood plain in a progressively subsiding ancient river valley of fresh water when the formation that contains the petrified wood on our end and the coal deposits at the northern end were laid down. The trees were preserved because they were quickly covered with sand and water which protected them from decay by bacteria and fungi (the two components which break down practically all life). Only a small percentage survived as fossils. The preserved wood was changed into silica, thus turning wood to rock. Petrified wood does not generally form in salt water. Today this area is surrounded by salt water.

An interesting side note is that this particular tree was the dominate tree responsible for the coal deposits world-wide and especially here in Cape Breton.

Petrified wood
Petrified wood

The pieces of petrified wood that I find range in colour from black to pieces that look quite similar to drift wood. I have a small piece that is nearly paper thin. Neighbour Bob says there is a piece at his place (that apparently belongs to us) that is nearly three feet long. Bob has found logs that were nearly 30 feet long. One of these days I am going to try to polish some of the smaller pieces (using a rock tumbler). I have larger pieces stacked like a mini-wood piles. There are chunks of the stuff scattered through the house with some of the larger pieces being used as door stops.

A small piece of petrified wood makes for a unique souvenir to remember your time here at Seaweed and Sod Farm Bed and Breakfast. There’s lots. I’ll share.

*Boularderie Island (where we live) is a smallish island that divides the north-eastern and north-western part of Cape Breton.



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