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Geology is the Way


Syenites are a group of plutonic igneous rocks that consist almost entirely of alkali feldspar with minor amounts of Na-rich plagioclasio and that represent the intrusive counterpart of trachytes. The name ‘syenite’ derives from ‘Lapis Syenitis‘, a decorative stone that has been quarried since ancient times close to the Egyptian city of Syene (today Aswan). Alkali feldspar is the main component of these rocks, while plagioclase generally represents 10 to 30% of the feldspars and it is often present perthites (unmixings within alkali feldspar grains). The content of quarzo is variable: syenites contain less than 5% of quartz, whereas quartz syenites are characterized by a quartz content between 5 and 20% of the felsic minerals. Foid-bearing syenites, the silica-undersaturated variety of these rocks, contain feldspathoids instead of quartz. ‘Foid’ in the name of these rocks can be substituted with the most abundant feldspathoid (e.g. nepheline-bearing syenite). Syenites generally contain between 10 and 35% of mafic minerals like hornblende, pyroxene, and, less commonly, biotite. Some syenites even contain Na-pyroxenes and amphiboles, like aegirine and arfvedsonite. Common accessory minerals are represented by zircon, apatite, titanite, allanite, ilmenite, and magnetite. 

Syenites are uncommon rocks that are found associated with mafic rock types, like gabbros and anorthosites, evolved magmatic products, like granites, or even rarer igneous rocks, like carbonatites. The formation of syenites can be explained as a result of fractional crystallization of a parent basaltic magma and/or the assimilation of alkali-rich crustal rocks which would produce compositions enriched in alkali elements, decreasing the saturation in silica of the magma. A more in-depth discussion of the petrology of syenites is available on

A sample of syenite from Ben Loyal, Scotland, UK, containing pink alkali feldspar and dark green pyroxene (aegirine-augite). © Virtual Microscope.

Plutonic igneous rock
Felsic minerals:
alkali feldspar
Mafic minerals:

QAPF classification:
Q = 0 – 20% or F < 10%
Plagioclase/feldspars = 10 – 35%
Colored varieties:
• leucosyenite (M < 10%)
• melasyenite (M > 35%)
Other varieties: quartz syenite, foid-bearing syenite
Extrusive equivalent: trachyte

Syenite with pink alkali feldspar and dark green aegirine-augite from Ben Loyal, Scotland, UK. The white lamellae within alkali feldspar consist of exsolved plagioclase (perthite). © Virtual Microscope.
Syenite from Lilla Söderby, Sweden, showing red crystals of alkali feldspar. Width of sample 10 cm. © Siim Sepp.
Syenite from the Cuttingsville Complex, Vermont, USA, with white-grayish alkali feldspar, black hornblende and minor biotite. Careful: alkali feldspar can be white, not just red! © James St. John.



Igneous Minerals
Igneous Textures
Plutonic Rocks
Igneous Bodies


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