The Desert Rose Might Be Not What You Think It Is
The distinctive feature of this stone is its ability to change both the appearance and shape. The mineral from which the most magnificent architectural monuments are made, and which has saved many lives, is called gypsum.
Gypsum became first known as a building material. There is a legend that the second-largest Egyptian pyramid was constructed from this mineral. However, plaster-stone was used not only to raise separate buildings but a whole city - Resafa - was built of it. Back in the days, the city located on the territory of modern-day Syria used to shine with dazzlingly white light in the sun.
Europeans valued gypsum very highly for the fantastic beauty of stucco moulding and the stone’s refractory characteristics. In the 17th century, a terrible fire occurred in London, and only those buildings that were covered with plaster managed to survive it. At the time, the highest-quality stone was exported from Paris. A quarry where the mineral was being extracted is located in the area, which is now known as Montmartre. The former quarry is hidden and disguised as a lake in the park.
In Russia, gypsum rose in popularity during the construction of St Petersburg, since many houses were being decorated with plaster ornaments. Gypsum was especially valued for its availability and affordability. Besides, this material could be imitated to make it look like some higher-priced stone. There was even an idea to make use of the mineral when building the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Still, it was rejected after all, for gypsum deteriorates if absorbs the water.
As the mineral can take different forms, people started making sculptures of it. Even Oscar statuettes, usually made of gold-plated bronze, were made of painted plaster for three years. The situation was caused by a metal shortage during World War II, as the martial law required all available gold to be allocated for the use of the military.
Another application field for gypsum is medicine. Almost two centuries ago, Nikolay Pirogov, a Russian doctor who is believed to be the founder of field surgery, suggested applying bandages saturated with this mineral to the fracture sites. The advantages of this treatment were compelling: skin contact did not cause irritation but helped fix bone fragments securely. Plaster-stone found its use in the agricultural industry as well. Gypsum powder is an efficient fertiliser. It is mixed with soil and is specifically useful when growing peanuts, beans and peas.
Gypsum is hardly popular as jewellery material, but collectors highly value it. Though it is a hard thing to believe in, but even flowers grow out of plaster-stone - these are called ‘desert roses’. First-ever found bizarre shapes of this type were described by Saharan Aboriginal tribes. In recent years, those admiring jewels are showing more and more interest in this variety of gypsum. As a consequence, for instance, Algerian authorities had to implement a law prohibiting the export of desert roses from their country.