Chrysanthemum Stones Juhuashi, 菊花石
These stones have been collected and appreciated for their natural beauty since the mid- to late-Qing dynasty. They originate in multiples locations mainly in southern China. Chrysanthemum stones were first reported in Guangdong province in 1740 and later found in abundance in Hunan and Hubei provinces. These two provinces produce most of the stones seen in the market place today, although the stones can be found in 21 localities in six other provinces. Ancient marine limestone approximately 250 million years old is the host rocks for these equally old mineral formations. Their characteristic features—three dimensional, radiating mineral deposits that resemble chrysanthemum flowers--are easily recognized by even novice rock collectors.
Since this type of stone is relatively soft—4 to 5 on the Moh scale—some of the earliest uses was for carved objects, especially ink stones. Several of these beautiful, antique ink stones have survived to the present. Liuyang in Hunan province became known worldwide for these stones , as well as its highly skilled rock carvers who transformed these stones into a wide range of art objects. See the book review of Chrysanthemum Stone Carving in Hunan Province for further information about this use of these stones. Later, these stones were appreciated for their natural beauty.
The ancient beds of limestone containing the calcite and celesite flower-like mineral formation are mined from the earth. The pieces range in size from a ping pong ball to large slabs several meters in length. The host rock varies in color from light to dark gray, while the mineral formations are white to off-white. There are completely natural stones that have good contrast between the host rock and the minerals. In some cases where the host rock is very light in color, ink is used to darken the background. Serious collectors of these stones should avoid stones than have been artificially darkened.
Larger slabs of stone are often broken into small pieces and shaped to form a stone suitable for mounting in a hard-carved wooden base. These are used as viewing stones. The best quality stones are those with well-defined flower-like formations. Often, stone carvers remove portions of the matrix stone to more fully expose the mineral formations. Serious collectors prefer stones that have not been carved yet still have clearly visible “flowers.” In some cases, the stones will have cross sections of the radiating crystals adding to the interest of these stones.
The radiating mineral formations range in size from very small to exceptionally large “petal-like” segments. Geologists from the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan have calculated that the larger mineral formations may have taken over one million years to form. In some cases, the radiating “petals” are long and narrow; while in others the “petals” are extremely broad. Different mines produce different variations in the chrysanthemum stones.
Prices for the stones varies greatly depending upon many factors. Small pieces that have been tumbled into smooth nearly rounded objects are inexpensive and sell for a few dollars apiece. Small to medium-sized shaped stones with wood bases may be purchased for several hundred dollars and, exceptionally larger pieces for several thousand dollars. Care must be taken with the stones when shipped overseas due to their relatively softness. They can break or chip if dropped or handled carelessly.
An unusual type of chrysanthemum stones is found in the Huadu District near Guangzhou in Guangdong province. Here, almost pure quartz crystals with little matrix stone are massed together to form the Huadu chrysanthemum stones. These have been collected from Chrysanthemum Mountain for decades, although today, commercial harvesting of them is not allowed. They are not well-known because of their scarcity, even in China and less so in other countries.
Finally, chrysanthemum stones are found in several locations in Japan. The Japanese versions are harder more dense stones. The flower-like mineral patterns are typically much smaller than their Chinese counterparts. Due to various impurities, the Japanese stones often have more color in their chrysanthemum stones. The Japanese chrysanthemum stones are not as common as the Chinese stones and the Japanese stones are often more sought after and more expensive.
For more information about these stones, see the books Chrysanthemum Stones, The Story of Stone Flowers (2010) in English, Kikka-seki no Sekai (2000) by Isihara in Japanese, and Zhongguo juhuashi (1999) by Li and Yu in Chinese.