Scholars' rocks can be any color, and contrasting colors are not uncommon. The size of the stone can also be quite varied: scholars' rocks can weigh hundreds of pounds or less than one pound. The term also identifies stones which are placed in traditional Chinese gardens.
There are three main Chinese sources for these stones.
- Lingbi stone (Lingbishi) (Chinese: 灵璧石) from Lingbi, Anhui province, limestone
- Taihu stone (Taihushi) (Chinese: 太湖石) from Lake Tai, Jiangsu province, limestone
- Yingde stone (Yingshi or Yingdeshi) (Chinese: 英石 or 英德石) from Yingde, Guangdong province, limestone
Scholar's stones are generally karstic limestone. Limestone is water-soluble under some conditions. Dissolution pitting dissolves hollows in the limestone. On a larger scale, this causes speleogenesis (when caves dissolve in limestone bedrock). On a still larger scale, the dissolved caves collapse, gradually creating karst topography, such as the famous landscapes of Guilin in the South China Karst.
As rocks are broadly fractal (geology journals require a scale to be included in images of rocks), the small rocks can resemble the larger landscape.
The aesthetics of a scholar's rock is based on subtleties of color, shape, markings, surface, and sound. Prized qualities include:
- awkward or overhanging asymmetry
- resonance or ringing when struck
- representation or resemblance to mountainous landscapes, particularly these believed to be inhabited by immortal beings  or figure
- moistness or glossy surface
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The World of Scholars' Rocks Gardens, Studios, and Paintings"; retrieved 2012-12-20.
- Harvard Shanghai Center, "Scholar Stone"; retrieved 2012-12-20.
- Brokaw, Charles. (2011). The Temple Mount Code, p. 73.
- Cousins, Craig. (2006). Bonsai Master Class, p. 246.
- Lingbi Stone and Asian Art Collection. (2014)
- Cousins, p. 247.
- Mendelson, John. "Chinese scholars' rocks simultaneously original and simulacrum" at ArtNet.com, 1996; retrieved 2012-12-20>
- Smith, Roberta (1996-05-31). "ART REVIEW;Old Chinese Rocks: Rorschach Blots In 3 Dimensions". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
- Harvard Museums, "Scholar's rock", 1993 painting; Linrothe, Robert N. (2004). Paradise and Plumage: Chinese Connections in Tibetan Arhat Painting, p. 24; retrieved 2012-12-20.
Media related to Scholar's rocks at Wikimedia Commons