Calcite, which gets its name from "chalix" the Greek word for lime, is a most amazing and yet, most common mineral. It is one of the most common minerals on the face of the Earth, comprising about 4% by weight of the Earth's crust and is formed in many different geological environments. Calcite can form rocks of considerable mass and constitutes a significant part of all three major rock classification types.
It forms oolitic, fossiliferous and massive limestones in sedimentary environments and even serves as the cements for many sandstones and shales. Limestone becomes marble from the heat and pressure of metamorphic events. Calcite is even a major component in the igneous rock called carbonatite and forms the major portion of many hydrothermal veins. Some of these rock types are composed of better than 99% calcite.
With calcite so abundant and so widely distributed it is no wonder that it can be so varied. The crystals of calcite can form literally a thousand different shapes by combining the basic forms of the positive rhombohedron, negative rhombohedron, steeply, moderately and slightly inclined rhombohedrons, various scalahedrons, prism and pinacoid to name a few of the more common forms.
There are more than 300 crystal forms identified in calcite and these forms can combine to produce the thousand different crystal variations. Calcite also produces many twin varieties. There are also phantoms, included crystals, colour varieties, pseudomorphs and unique associations. There simply is no end to the varieties of calcite.
Not necessarily a variety of calcite, cave formations are certainly a unique aspect of calcite's story. Calcite is the primary mineral component in cave formations. Stalactites and stalagmites, cave veils, cave pearls, "soda straws" and the many other different cave formations that millions of visitors to underground caverns enjoy are made of calcite. It is the fact that calcite is readily dissolved that these formations occur. Overlying limestones or marbles are dissolved away by years and years of slightly acidic ground water to percolate into the caverns below. In fact the caverns themselves may have been the result of water dissolving away the calcite rich rock. As the calcite enriched water enters a relatively dry cavern, the water starts to evaporate and thus precipitate the calcite. The resulting accumulations of calcite are generally extremely pure and are coloured if at all, by very small amounts of iron or other impurities.