If you have ever mistaken the lithops living stones for rocks, then you are not the only one! The lithops are a unique type of succulents that boast a stone-like appearance. However, they are a popular type of plant that is a favorite of many garden enthusiasts for many reasons.
Read on to find out why and how you can also grow your share of living stone plants.
An Overview of the Plant
Lithops are native to the southern regions of Africa and belong to the Aizocea or the ice plant family. They are fondly called pebble plants, living stones, split rocks, and butt plants for their appearance.
Interestingly, succulents are very clever plants. In their natural environment, they camouflage with the surrounding colors and patterns to mimic the look of stones. This blends them into their habitat, protecting them from getting eaten by animals.
In general, the plants are short in height and hardly grow an inch taller than the soil they live in. they grow only two leaves, which are very thick and resemble the cleft of an animal foot. The old leaves are replaced by a new set each year, while the old set can be removed.
These plants are long-lived as well. In fact, you can expect them to live for up to 50 years – and even in the same container, thanks to its small size.
They flower during autumn and early winter, producing light yellow, white, or pale orange flowers with multiple petals. The flowers would open during the sunny days and close again as the sunsets. The size of the flowers varies, depending on the cultivator and growing condition.
Some flowers are also scented. New leaves start growing after the flowering process is completed.
The Different Types of Lithops
Approximately 37 species and around 145 varieties of succulents are present. It was initially discovered by William Burchell, a traveling artist, and collector of historic items in the Northern Cape province of South America. He picked it up, mistaken it for a rock – to find it a plant instead. Since then, several more types of lithops are regularly discovered by the breeders.
Some of the most common ones include:
This variety of plant originates from South Africa. It is naturally grown in sandstone, quartzite, and ironstone-based soils. However, if you are growing it as a houseplant, you can use sandy and well-draining soils successfully as well.
When it comes to appearance, the living stone is usually red to red-brown in color. They produce pale yellow flowers that appear similar to daisies.
Discovered by Dorothea Huyssteen in South Africa, this species boasts vibrant patterns on the leaves that would convince you that they are painted rocks. It has a cream-colored base with
Brown and red specks.
It produces bright yellow flowers annually.
Native to Namibia, the Fulviceps enjoy cooler desert temperatures or rocky mountainous areas. The leaves of this species are very similar to kidney beans and boast a greyish-green or yellowish-hue.
The Lithops Fulviceps produces flowers of yellow or white coloring – depending on the cultivator.
Lithops Hookeri is another South African stone plant. Unlike other lithops types, this species can grow quite large and usually forms clumps of up to 10 leaf pairs.
In coloring, the leaves can range from brownish to reddish-pink tones, with occasional specks of orange. At the same time, the side of the leaves are dull grey or greyish-brown in color. The flowers are usually bright yellow.
Named after the Karas Mountains in Namibia, this type of lithops camouflage the grey and brown hues of local quartzite stones. The sides are uniformly grey with tinges of brown, while it produces a brilliant white flower with a yellow center.
It can also be found in the southwestern regions of South Africa.
The species is common in Botswana and the Northern Cape of South Africa. It is considered one of the most vibrant lithops for its coloring that ranges from bright green to deep rusty orange. The flower this plant produces is typically yellow. However, white flowers are also present in some cultivators.
The Leslei is almost stemless and is able to hide in the surrounding, better than other varieties. It sits very low amongst the soil as well, making it very challenging to spot.
Native to the southern Karoo region of South Africa, the lithops localis is uniformly gray or greenish-gray in color. It often grows amongst rocks of same hues as a way to disguise itself from predators.
The lithops localis can tolerate poor watering habits far better than other lithops types. It flowers usually in the fall season.
Native to Namibia, Optica is a good option if you are considering outdoor planting in area that experiences light winter rain.
This species has several varieties with colors ranging from bright pink and purple to dull shades of gray and brown.
Hailing from southwestern Africa, the pseudotruncatella features an even grey tone with leaves speckled with cream, olive green, and rusty hues.
Unfortunately, this is one of the few species which is regularly subjected to mealybug attacks. Other than that, the pseudotruncatella is a sturdy variety of lithops and can last for months without any watering.
Strongly resembling a natural marble, this variety features a cream coloring with tan or grey mottling. It produces flowers of yellow color and generally lives in the cold and rocky regions of the Namibia.
The salt-dwelling living stone can be found in both Namibia and South Africa. It is highly tolerant of dry and cool temperatures. However, freezing weather should be avoided for this species.
A recipient of the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society, this variety of lithops is one of the easiest to grow as well. It produces bright white or yellow flowers during the late summer or early fall.
Coming from South Africa, this species of succulents is the most distinguishable from the rest due to the ‘warts’ it features. The tiny growths range in shades of red atop a greyish-green base.
Some varieties of this plant produce pink flowers, though yellow and white are the most common.
Commonly known as the green rock plant, this species of lithops exhibits a uniform green color with a speck of pink around the edges. The flowers are usually yellow with a white center.
It is native to the Northern Cape of South Africa.
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Lithops Plant Care
For the most part, Lithops are pretty hardy and easy to care for. But there are a few guidelines that you should know when planting one in your home.
In their natural environment, the lithops thrives in full sun. However, in the gardens or as a houseplant – 5 hours of full sunlight should be sufficient for the plant.
However, if you are keeping it indoors, make sure to place the container near a window that receives bright light during the daytime. Make sure to rotate the plant from time to time as well so each area gets equal amounts of light. Remember that failing to do so will result in a misshaped plant.
Color loss can also occur if your plant is not getting enough light. Change its location if you find the leaves of the succulent fading or appearing less pronounced.
The ideal temperature for growing the lithops is 65 degrees F to 80 degrees F. they cannot tolerate freezing temperature and suffice well in areas falling in USDA Hardiness Zone 10a to 11b.
Lithops are able to tolerate humidity in small amounts as it absorbs moisture from the air to fulfill its water requirements. However, consistent humidity can cause problems for the plants. This is why make sure to avoid keeping the succulent in areas that get high humidity, such as bathroom and kitchens.
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In their natural habitats, lithops live in extreme drought-like conditions in the area that gets very little rainfall. Due to this, you can easily get away with some neglect when it comes to watering the pebble plant.
Moreover, its fleshy leaves are filled with moisture to help the plant survive when external sources of water are not available.
In most cases, however, the watering schedule should vary according to the season. During the growing season, water the plants slightly every two weeks – or when the soil appears dried out.
Most lithops living stones go into the dormancy stage during the winter season so it’s best to avoid watering during this time.
Always remember that overwatering is a silent killer of the succulents and it’s ideal that you hold back on the water as much as possible.
Keep an eye on the rainfall if you have planted them outside as well. If your specific area experiences long periods of rainfall and storms, I suggest bringing them indoors to prevent it from getting too much water.
When they are in their natural habitats, the lithops soil is basically sand and other natural material that does not retain water.
At home, I usually prefer planning the lithops in the cactus mix. You can also try your hand at a DIY soil mix by blending half potting soil with half sand.
As I mentioned above, overwatering is a strict no-no for the succulent. So make sure any growing medium you use has the ability to drain quickly.
Lithops are generally non-fussy plants and can thrive perfectly well without being fed. But if you want, you can add a little fertilizer to their soil just before their flowering period to help them produce bigger and better flowers.
You can also choose a fertilizer with high potassium content to encourage blooming. However, make sure to take caution as the plant can burn very easily. And if you are unsure about the content of the fertilizer, I suggest that you let it be without it.
Repotting is rare for lithops and you can happily keep them in the same container for years – even decades.
The only reason to repot them is for propagation or to change their container. But regardless of the reason, if you do decide to repot, I suggest that you be very careful with the root system. The taproots of the succulent are very sensitive and an essential component of the plant’s survival. Any damage to the roots can cause the plant to die
Pruning is another part of lithops care that you don’t have to worry about when it comes to lithops. When the new leaves erupt, the set of old leaves eventually slough off on their own – saving you from the hassle.
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Many gardeners prefer propagating lithops from the seed. To do this, you simply prepare a pot with the recommended soil and sprinkle the seeds over the surface. Cover the same with a fine layer of sand and keep it lightly moist until germination occurs.
On the other hand, lithops propagation can be done via division. Carefully remove one cluster of plant from the pot. Use a sterilize razor blade to neatly remove the leaf pairs with a good amount of taproot attached.
Repot the plant as suggested above.
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Problems with Lithops Living Stones
Most of the problems associated with the plant come from overwatering. As long as you keep the water level at a minimum, your attractive foliage will last you for many decades.
But yes, there are some pests and diseases that you need to be careful of when growing any variety of lithops. Some common problems include:
The living stones need lights to thrive. If you find the plant stretching and warping to reach sunlight – instead of lying flat on the soil surface, chances are your succulents are getting very less light.
The leaves of these plants may also become wrinkly if they become dehydrated. If you find them shriveling up at any time during the year, its best to give it some light sprinkling and it will revive back in 2 -3 days.
However, your plant is going through the regrowth stage if see scrapes of white or brown – like the scratches on human skin. The scars will remain on the leaves until a new one appears. Ultimately, the old leaf will shrivel up and wither away.
Similarly, pests usually shy away from the lithops on most occasions. Except a few such as spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids.
Spider mites are the most common when it comes to infecting lithops. They usually hide in the crevices between two leaves and cause white spots on the plant.
A light spray of water is usually enough to remove the buggers away. You can also spray the surface with a reliable mite control product or insecticidal soap.
Interestingly, mice may find your lithops a great hiding spot. They may also chew a good portion of the plant if you don’t notice. To ensure protection, I usually keep a few mouse traps around the plants. Cover the lithops with light mesh clothing if you are keeping them outside.
Generally, the lithops are hardly affected by diseases. The only problem they are susceptible to is rots – caused by overwatering.
Excessive watering can break the fleshy leaves, making them vulnerable to bacterial infection. Scrapes or cuts on the leaves from any incident can also put them at risk.
The biggest worry most home gardeners have regarding new plants is if it is poisonous. When it comes to lithops, many people have admitted to chewing the leaves in Namibia so it’s unlikely to be toxic.
The ASPCA has also marked them as non-toxic for dogs and cats.
However, whether or not you decide to nibble on the plant – remember that any spray you have used on the leaves may potentially be poisonous. So, it’s best to keep children and pets away from the leaves if you have concerns.
Ready to Grow
Now that you know all about the succulent beauties, why not plant some of your own? As you can see, they are super-easy to grow and require hardly any maintenance. So give it a try and don’t forget to share your experiences with us.
You can also reach out to me if you have any questions or gardening concerns in the comments section below!
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