Volcanic rocks are usually fine-grained or aphanitic to glassy in texture. They often contain clasts of other rocks and phenocrysts. Phenocrysts are crystals that are larger than the matrix and are identifiable with the unaided eye. Rhomb porphyry is an example with large rhomb shaped phenocrysts embedded in a very fine grained matrix.
Volcanic rocks often have a vesicular texture, which is the result voids left by volatiles escaping from the molten lava. Pumice is a rock, which is an example of explosive volcanic eruption. It is so vesicular that it floats in water.
Volcanic rocks are named according to both their chemical composition and texture. Basalt is a very common volcanic rock with low silica content. Rhyolite is a volcanic rock with high silica content. Rhyolite has silica content similar to that of granite while basalt is compositionally equal to gabbro. Intermediate volcanic rocks include andesite, dacite, trachyte and latite.
Pyroclastic rocks are the product of explosive volcanism. They are often felsic (high in silica). Pyroclastic rocks are often the result of volcanic debris, such as ash, bombs and tephra, and other volcanic ejecta. Examples of pyroclastic rocks are tuff and ignimbrite.
Shallow intrusions, which possess structure similar to volcanic rather than plutonic rocks are also considered to be volcanic.
The sub-family of rocks which form from volcanic lava are called igneous volcanic rocks (to differentiate them from igneous rocks which form from magma, below the surface of the earth, called igneous plutonic rocks).
The lavas of different volcanoes, when cooled and hardened, differ much in their appearance and composition. If a rhyolite lava-stream cools quickly, it can quickly freeze into a black glassy substance called obsidian. When filled with bubbles of gas, the same lava may form the spongy mineral pumice. Allowed to cool slowly, it forms a light-colored, uniformly solid rock called rhyolite.
The lavas, having cooled rapidly in contact with the air or water, are mostly finely crystalline or have at least fine-grained ground-mass representing that part of the viscous semi-crystalline lava flow which was still liquid at the moment of eruption. At this time they were exposed only to atmospheric pressure, and the steam and other gases, which they contained in great quantity were free to escape; many important modifications arise from this, the most striking being the frequent presence of numerous steam cavities (vesicular structure) often drawn out to elongated shapes subsequently filled up with minerals by infiltration (amygdaloidal structure). As crystallization was going on while the mass was still creeping forward under the surface of the Earth, the latest formed minerals (in the ground-mass) are commonly arranged in subparallel winding lines following the direction of movement (fluxion or fluidal structure), and the larger early minerals which had previously crystallized may show the same arrangement. Most lavas have fallen considerably below their original temperatures before they are emitted. In their behavior they present a close analogy to hot solutions of salts in water, which, when they approach the saturation temperature, first deposit a crop of large, well-formed crystals (labile stage) and subsequently precipitate clouds of smaller less perfect crystalline particles (metastable stage). In igneous rocks the first generation of crystals generally forms before the lava has emerged to the surface, that is to say, during the ascent from the subterranean depths to the crater of the volcano. It has frequently been verified by observation that freshly emitted lavas contain large crystals borne along in a molten, liquid mass. The large, well-formed, early crystals (phenocrysts) are said to be porphyritic; the smaller crystals of the surrounding matrix or ground-mass belong to the post-effusion stage. More rarely lavas are completely fused at the moment of ejection; they may then cool to form a non-porphyritic, finely crystalline rock, or if more rapidly chilled may in large part be non-crystalline or glassy (vitreous rocks such as obsidian, tachylyte, pitchstone). A common feature of glassy rocks is the presence of rounded bodies (spherulites), consisting of fine divergent fibres radiating from a center; they consist of imperfect crystals of feldspar, mixed with quartz or tridymite; similar bodies are often produced artificially in glasses which are allowed to cool slowly. Rarely these spherulites are hollow or consist of concentric shells with spaces between (lithophysae). Perlitic structure, also common in glasses, consists of the presence of concentric rounded cracks owing to contraction on cooling.
The phenocrysts or porphyritic minerals are not only larger than those of the ground-mass; as the matrix was still liquid when they formed they were free to take perfect crystalline shapes, without interference by the pressure of adjacent crystals. They seem to have grown rapidly, as they are often filled with enclosures of glassy or finely crystalline material like that of the ground-mass . Microscopic examination of the phenocrysts often reveals that they have had a complex history. Very frequently they show layers of different composition, indicated by variations in color or other optical properties; thus augite may be green in the center surrounded by various shades of brown; or they may be pale green centrally and darker green with strong pleochoism (aegirine) at the periphery. In the feldspars the center is usually richer in calcium than the surrounding layers, and successive zones may often be noted, each less calsic than those which lie within it. Phenocrysts of quartz (and of other minerals), instead of sharp, perfect crystalline faces, may show rounded corroded surfaces, with the points blunted and irregular tongue-like projections of the matrix into the substance of the crystal. It is clear that after the mineral had crystallized it was partly again dissolved or corroded at some period before the matrix solidified. Corroded phenocrysts of biotite and hornblende are very common in some lavas; they are surrounded by black rims of magnetite mixed with pale green augite. The hornblende or biotite substance has proved unstable at a certain stage of consolidation and has been replaced by a paramorph of augite and magnetite which may be partially or completely substituted for the original crystal but still retains its characteristic outlines.