The Mississippi Petrified Forest

Natural and manmade erosion of Ice Age loess deposits has unveiled a 36 million year old log jam in Mississippi. All of this fossil wood is known as The Mississippi Petrified Forest.  Although individual specimens of truly fossilized wood have been found in every state, this is the only known petrified forest east of the Mississippi.  This National Landmark is privately owned but accessible to the public for a small fee.

Petrified wood.  Today, second growth forest is growing over The Mississippi Petrified Forest.  A thousand years from now topsoil from composted forest leaf litter could re-cover much of the petrified wood.

 Location of The Mississippi Petrifed Forest.  It was created from a flood and log jam on an ancient now extinct river.

Some scientists consider 36 million years ago to be late Eocene, while others consider it early Oligocene.  Whatever the epoch, an ancient river, now extinct, flowed east of where the modern Mississippi River is now located.  The site of the Mississippi Petrified Forest was just north of the Gulf of Mexico then because worldwide sea levels were so much higher than they are today.  A great flood swept over the riverbanks and carried trees down the river until they got stuck in a log jam.  The trees sank and eventually became buried in mud.  The buried wood turned to stone in a process known as permineralization when silicon dioxide replaced organic tissue.  The Latin word for this is petrify.  The wood turns into many different colors depending on the amount of secondary minerals mixed with the silicon dioxide.  Iron oxides turn the stones red, brown, or yellow.  Aluminum oxide turns the petrified wood white; manganese oxides turn them black.  Chrome and copper oxides turn the petrifed wood green.

The trees in this flood-destroyed forest were massive and ancient.  At the time of their felling some were over 1000 years old, more than 100 feet tall, and from 12-15 feet in diameter.  The species of trees included extinct varieties of sequoias, firs, maples, and families of trees that no longer exist.  The climate during this time period was warmer than that of today and probably frost free.  Redwoods, firs, and maples have evolved to survive in cooler climates since then.

Despite the rarity and scientific value of this site, I couldn’t find any scientific literature about it, making this essay briefer than my usual posts.


2 Responses to “The Mississippi Petrified Forest”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    One of my uncles found a petrified tree trunk in, I think, the Altamaha Swamp. He winched it aboard his truck and brought it home and placed it in the front garden of my grandmother’s house in Brunswick. Where it stayed for many decades. My dad would always point it out to me and explain what it was and how it had formed when we were there visiting my aunts (who inherited the place). It was large, substantial, and composed of pale white stone. You could plainly see the woody formations and that it was the base of the trunk where it flared out into the buttressing root system.

    At some point, my asshole brother-in-law drove over to the house when no one in a position of authority was around and loaded it into his own truck and took it to his house in Savannah where, I assume, it still exists (unless he sold it).

    My dad always claimed it was a cypress tree. But I don’t have a clear enough memory to say one what or the other. But my dad was pretty darned sharp when it came to tree identification–even a petrified tree, I dare say.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Might have been cypress. I think cypress is an ancient species, maybe going back to the Cretaceous.

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