What is the Difference Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar

Feldspar is a group of rock-forming minerals that make up a significant portion of the Earth’s crust. In fact, these minerals are highly abundant and are a major component in many types of rocks, including igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Feldspar minerals are classified into two main groups: alkali and plagioclase feldspar.

What is the difference between alkali and plagioclase feldspar? Alkali feldspar is rich in potassium and sodium, whereas plagioclase feldspar is rich in sodium and calcium.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Alkali  Feldspar
      – Definition, Features
2. What is Plagioclase Feldspar
      – Definition, Features
3. Similarities Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Feldspar, Alkali Feldspar, Plagioclase FeldsparDifference  Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar - Comparison Summary

What is Alkali Feldspar

Alkali feldspar is a group of common rock-forming minerals, often found as glassy crystals with various colors. They are key components of many igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks.

Alkali feldspar has a low calcium content and a high sodium and potassium content. They can be thought of as a mix between sodium aluminosilicate and potassium aluminosilicate. There are many types of alkali felspar, each with a different chemistry and crystal structure.

Alkali Feldspar

The most common types are K-feldspars and anorthoclase. Examples of K-feldspars include orthoclase (monoclinic crystal structure, often pink or white), microcline (triclinic structure, the most common K-feldspar, often white or cream), and sanidine (monoclinic structure, can be clear or yellow). Anorthoclase is the only alkali feldspar not rich in potassium.

Cooling history and temperature decide the specific type of alkali feldspar formed. Sanidine, for example, is found in volcanic rocks due to its ability to retain its high-temperature structure during rapid cooling. Conversely, microcline is more common in rocks that cooled slowly or formed at lower temperatures.

Alkali feldspar is most abundant in igneous rocks. However, they are also found in metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks. There are many uses of alkali feldspar such as the use in the manufacturing of glass and ceramics and as some polished and cut gemstones, etc.

What is Plagioclase Feldspar

Plagioclase feldspars are a continuous mix of calcium and sodium within a specific crystal structure. These minerals are very common, making up the most abundant mineral group in Earth’s crust. They are found in igneous rocks that form from cooling magma and even in metamorphic rocks and some sedimentary rocks. These appear as light-coloured blocky crystals. Different types only vary slightly in their chemical makeup, which affects how light interacts with them.

Plagioclase Feldspar

As magma cools, minerals start to solidify at different temperatures. Anorthite, with its higher melting point, crystallizes first. The leftover magma gets richer in sodium, so the next plagioclase to form will have more sodium and less calcium. This continues as the magma cools, creating a continuous range of plagioclase feldspar compositions.

Similarities Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar

  1. Both belong to the feldspar group of minerals.
  2. Alkali feldspar and plagioclase feldspar have similar crystal structures.
  3. They are very common minerals and are a major component in many types of rocks, including igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks.

Difference Between Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar


  • Alkali feldspar includes minerals that contain significant amounts of potassium and sodium, while plagioclase feldspar includes minerals with varying ratios of sodium and calcium.

Crystal Structure

  • Alkali feldspars typically have a monoclinic or triclinic crystal structure, while plagioclase feldspars all have a triclinic crystal structure.


  • Alkali feldspars do not have a distinctive feature for easy identification, but plagioclase feldspars often have fine parallel lines or grooves called striations on one cleavage surface.


  • Alkali feldspar can be white, pink, red, or even gray, whereas plagioclase feldspar is typically white or gray, but there can be some overlap in colors with alkali feldspar.

Type of Rock

  • While alkali feldspar is more common in felsic igneous rocks (granite) where silica content is high, plagioclase feldspar is found in a wider range of igneous rocks, from felsic to mafic (basalt) depending on the calcium content.


Both alkali feldspar and plagioclase feldspar share similarities, such as belonging to the feldspar mineral group and having similar crystal structures. The main difference between alkali and plagioclase feldspar is in their chemical compositions and physical characteristics. Alkali feldspar is rich in potassium and sodium, while plagioclase feldspar contains sodium and calcium in a continuous series.

FAQ: Alkali and Plagioclase Feldspar

1. What are the distinguishing characteristics of alkali feldspar?

  • Alkali feldspar (also called potassium feldspar or K-feldspar) has a color range from white to brick-red, and it’s typically opaque.

2. How to tell the difference between plagioclase and alkali feldspar in a thin section?

  • Plagioclase feldspar typically shows parallel lines (twinning striations) on its surface, while alkali feldspar usually lacks these altogether. In rare cases, alkali feldspar might have a patchy twinning texture, but the absence of any twinning is a strong indicator for alkali feldspar.

3. What is the difference between alkali feldspar and quartz?

  • Alkali feldspar is a group of minerals containing potassium and sodium, and it has a more complex crystal structure that can be either monoclinic or triclinic. Quartz, on the other hand, is a pure silicon dioxide with a simple hexagonal crystal structure. Quartz is typically harder and more resistant to weathering than alkali feldspar.

4. What is alkali feldspar used for?

  • Alkali feldspar is used in ceramics and glass manufacturing, and it’s a key ingredient that helps improve the strength and durability of products like tiles, dishes, and glassware.

5. How do you identify plagioclase feldspar?

  • You can identify plagioclase feldspar by its fine striations on cleavage surfaces, which result from twinning. It ranges in color from white to gray. Plagioclase has a hardness of 6-6.5 on the Mohs scale and two directions of cleavage that intersect at nearly 90 degrees.

1. “Alkali Feldspar.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
2. “Plagioclase.” Mineral – Geology.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Rocks – Alkali feldspar granite” By Khruner – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia 
2. “PlagioclaseFeldsparUSGOV” (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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