Classification of Plutonic Rocks

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What are Plutonic Rocks?

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In geology, a pluton is a body of trespassing igneous rock (known as a plutonic rock) which is crystallized from magma steadily cooling beneath the Earth’s surface. Plutons include batholiths, dikes, stocks, sills, lopoliths, laccoliths, and other igneous creations. 

In practice, “pluton” generally implies a peculiar mass of igneous rock, essentially several kilometres in dimension, non-existing with a tabular, or flat, shape like those of dikes and sills.

Plutonic Rocks Examples

Examples of plutonic rocks include Cuillin in Skye, Cardinal Peak in Washington State, Denali in Alaska, Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia; and Stone Mountain in the United State of Georgia.

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The most common rock types in plutons include monzonite, granite, granodiorite, tonalite, and quartz diorite. Usually, coarse-grained, light coloured plutons of these compositions are called granitoid.

Classification of Igneous Rocks

Classification of igneous rocks is actually one of the confusing facts of geology. This is partly because of the historical reasons, partly because of the nature of magmas, and partly because of the different benchmark that could potentially be used to classify rocks. That being said, let’s find out what the names of the different rocks mean.

Classification of Igneous Rocks

Type of Textures


Too tiny crystals to be seen by the eye


5-50 mm diameter

Very coarse-grained

More than 50 mm diameter


Less than 1 mm diameter


no crystals formed

Medium grained

1-5 mm diameter


can look through the constituent minerals


bimodal grain size distribution


Integrated igneous fragments

Criteria of Classification of Igneous Rocks

There are different benchmarks that could be used to classify igneous rocks. Among many of them, various are:

1. Minerals Present in the Rock: 

The minerals in a rock and their corresponding proportions in the rock depend highly on the chemical composition of the magma. This further works well as a classification scheme if all of the minerals that could presumably crystallize from the magma have done so - generally the case for steadily cooled plutonic igneous rocks.  But, volcanic rocks generally have their crystallization interfered with the explosion and quick cooling on the surface.  In such rocks, there are most commonly minerals or glass which are too small to be readily determined. Hence, a system of classification based entirely on the minerals present can only be used.

2. Texture of the Rock: 

to a large extent, rock texture depends on the cooling history of the magma. Hence, rocks with similar minerals present and chemical composition could have largely different textures. In fact, we usually use the textural criteria to subdivide igneous rocks into plutonic (generally moderate to coarse-grained) and volcanic (generally glassy, fine-grained, or porphyritic) varieties.

3. Colour: 

The colour of rocks typically depends on the minerals it contains in addition to their grain size. Usually, rocks that contain ample quartz and feldspar are light-coloured, and rocks that consist of abundant amphiboles (ferromagnesium minerals), olivines, and pyroxenes are dark-coloured. However, remember that colour can be misleading when applied to rocks of similar composition but different grain size.

For example, granite contains a large amount of quartz and feldspar and is usually light-coloured. But a rapidly cooled volcanic rock with a similar composition as the granite could be completely glassy and black coloured (i.e. obsidian). Still, we can divide rocks in general into felsic rocks and mafic rocks.

4. Chemical Composition: 

Chemical composition of igneous rocks is a very distinctive feature. The composition generally reflects the composition of the magma, and thus offers information on the source of the rock. The chemical composition of the magma identifies the minerals which will crystallize and their proportions.

A set of hypothetical minerals which can crystallize from a magma having similar chemical composition as the rock (known as the Norm), can expedite comparison between rocks. Still, since chemical composition can vary continuously, there are several natural breaks to expedite divisions between different rocks. Chemical composition cannot be easily identified in the field, making classification based on chemistry somewhat impractical.

Magmas, from which all igneous rocks are extracted, are compounded liquid solutions. Since they are solutions, their chemical composition can differ incessantly within a range of compositions. Due to an ongoing fluctuation in chemical composition, there is no simple way to set limits within a classification scheme.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What are Igneous Rocks and Their Various Types?

Answer: In geography, igneous rocks are actually the most basic type of rocks. They come into being when magma (molten rock, essentially extracted from the earth's mantle) solidifies. This can occur below or above the Earth’s surface, ensuing in 2 subtypes:

1) Intrusive Rocks or Plutonic Rocks

When magma fails to never reach the surface and cools down to form intrusions (dykes, sills etc) the resulting rocks are what we call plutonic rocks. It is quite easy to understand what is plutonic rock. Based upon their silica content, they are referred to (in ascending order of silica content) as diorite, pegmatite, granite, and gabbro. By quantity, these are so far the most common rock types. Most magma actually never reaches the Earth’s surface.

2) Extrusive Rocks or Volcanic Rocks

When magma is able to reach the surface of the earth during a volcanic eruption, the rocks that form there are known as lavas or volcanic rocks. A fundamental classification is the same as for plutonic rocks: with increasing silica content, they include andesites, basalt, dacites, rhyolite, obsidian and pumice.

Q2. Classify Igneous Rocks on the Basis of Silica Composition?

Answer: The extensively used and easiest classification of igneous rocks is as per the silica (SiO2) content in the bulk rock composition. The most common types are displayed in this table:

Weight % of SiO2

Plutonic Rock Type

Volcanic Rock Equivalent