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Witherite Barium carbonate South Moor Colliery Durham England.jpg
Witherite from the South Moor Colliery, Durham, England
CategoryCarbonate mineral
(repeating unit)
IMA symbolWth[1]
Strunz classification5.AB.15
Crystal systemOrthorhombic
Crystal classDipyramidal (mmm)
H-M symbol: (2/m 2/m 2/m)
Space groupPmcn
Unit cella = 5.31 Å, b = 8.9 Å
c = 6.43 Å; Z = 4
ColorColorless, white, pale gray, with possible tints of pale-yellow, pale-brown, or pale-green
Crystal habitStriated short prismatic crystals, also botryoidal to spherical, columnar fibrous, granular, massive.
TwinningOn {110}, universal
CleavageDistinct on {010} poor on {110}, {012}
Mohs scale hardness3.0 - 3.5
LusterVitreous, resinous on fractures
DiaphaneitySubtransparent to translucent
Specific gravity4.3
Optical propertiesBiaxial (-)
Refractive indexnα = 1.529 nβ = 1.676 nγ = 1.677
Birefringenceδ = 0.148
2V angleMeasured: 16°, calculated: 8°
Ultraviolet fluorescenceFluorescent and phosphorescent, short UV=bluish white, long UV=bluish white

Witherite is a barium carbonate mineral, BaCO3, in the aragonite group.[2] Witherite crystallizes in the orthorhombic system and virtually always is twinned.[2] The mineral is colorless, milky-white, grey, pale-yellow, green, to pale-brown. The specific gravity is 4.3, which is high for a translucent mineral.[2] It fluoresces light blue under both long- and short-wave UV light, and is phosphorescent under short-wave UV light.[2]

Witherite forms in low-temperature hydrothermal environments. It is commonly associated with fluorite, celestine, galena, barite, calcite, and aragonite. Witherite occurrences include: Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, US; Pigeon Roost Mine, Glenwood, Arkansas, US; Settlingstones Mine Northumberland; Alston Moor, Cumbria; Anglezarke, Lancashire and Burnhope,[6] County Durham, England; Thunder Bay area, Ontario, Canada, Germany, and Poland (Tarnowskie Góry and Tajno at Suwałki Region).

Witherite was named after William Withering (1741–1799) an English physician and naturalist who in 1784 published his research on the new mineral. He could show that barite and the new mineral were two different minerals.[4][7]


In 1789 the eminent German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner named the mineral witherite in honour of William Withering.[8] The Matthew Boulton mineral collection of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery may contain one of the earliest known specimens of witherite. A label in Boulton's handwriting, records: "No.2 Terra Ponderosa Aerata, given me by Dr. Withering”.[9]

Risk to human health[edit]

The 18th-century naturalist Dr. Leigh recorded its lethal effects after the death of a farmer's wife and child. James Watt Jnr. experimented with the mineral on animals and he recorded the same lethal properties.[10] Until the 18th century farmers at Anglezarke used the mineral as rat poison.[11]

Industrial use[edit]

An experiment conducted by Josiah Wedgwood, led to it being used in his 'Jasper ware'; the mineral had previously been considered as worthless.[11] Witherite has been used for hardening steel, and for making cement, glass, enamelware, soap, dye and explosives.[12]

Witherite crystallizes in the orthorhombic system. The crystals are invariably twinned together in groups of three, giving rise to pseudo-hexagonal forms somewhat resembling bipyramidal crystals of quartz, the faces are usually rough and striated horizontally.[13] It transforms into an hexagonal phase at 1084 K that changes into a cubic phase at 1254 K. The mineral is named after William Withering, who in 1784 recognized it to be chemically distinct from barytes.[14] It occurs in veins of lead ore at Hexham in Northumberland, Alston in Cumbria, Anglezarke, near Chorley in Lancashire and a few other localities. Witherite is readily altered to barium sulfate by the action of water containing calcium sulfate in solution and crystals are therefore frequently encrusted with barytes. It is the chief source of barium salts and is mined in considerable amounts in Northumberland. It is used for the preparation of rat poison, in the manufacture of glass and porcelain, and formerly for refining sugar.[13] It is also used for controlling the chromate to sulfate ratio in chromium electroplating baths.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warr, L.N. (2021). "IMA–CNMNC approved mineral symbols". Mineralogical Magazine. 85 (3): 291–320. Bibcode:2021MinM...85..291W. doi:10.1180/mgm.2021.43. S2CID 235729616.
  2. ^ a b c d e Witherite mindat.org
  3. ^ Handbook of Mineralogy
  4. ^ a b Webmineral data
  5. ^ Mineralienatlas
  6. ^ Ashburn, J.H., Mining Witherite in North-West Durham, Colliery Guardian, August 1963 (at Durham Mining Museum web-site)
  7. ^ Withering, William (1784). "Experiments and Observations on Terra Poderosa". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 74: 293–311. doi:10.1098/rstl.1784.0024. S2CID 186210361.
  8. ^ "William Withering (1741-1799): a biographical sketch of a Birmingham Lunatic." M R Lee, James Lind Library, accessed 25 September 2006
  9. ^ Starkey, R. E. (2011). "Matthew Boulton, his mineral collection and the Lunar Men". The Newsletter of the Russell Society. 59: 1–8.
  10. ^ Watt, James Jr. (1789). Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Philosophical Society. p. 598.
  11. ^ a b The Mining Magazine, March 1963, Vol 108, pages 133–139
  12. ^ 'Looking Back' p10 Hexham Courant 10 January 2014 featuring a photograph of Settlingstones miners in 1905
  13. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Witherite". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 759.
  14. ^ Withering, William (1784). "Experiments and Observations on Terra Poderosa". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 74: 293–311. doi:10.1098/rstl.1784.0024. S2CID 186210361.
  15. ^ Whitelaw, G.P. (2003-10-25). "Standard Chrome Bath Control". finishing.com. Archived from the original on 13 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-29.

External links[edit]

Media related to Witherite at Wikimedia Commons