Lithops [LY-thops] is a genus of unusual succulents belonging to the ice plant family (Aizoaceae).
The name means “like stone” in Ancient Greek referring to the appearance of the plant.
These “living stones” blend with surrounding stones and typically include one or more bulbous pairs of succulent leaves.
Also called pebble plants, lithops are native to South Africa and Namibia.
In these regions, the plants endure long periods of drought, requiring them to store water in the succulent tissue.
Living stones are a little challenging to grow, especially when trying to get them to flower.
Understanding the growth cycle and recommended plant care tips increases the chances of a successful bloom.
Size & Growth
Most species of living stones are relatively small, measuring no more than 3” inches tall.
The plant produces pairs of succulent leaves.
The leaves are round and partially fused together.
As the leaves grow, they swell and become rounded, resembling small stones.
Lithops typically start with one pair of leaves and may grow more as they mature.
The colors of the leaves vary.
Some lithops are brownish-yellow, greenish-gray, or pale orange.
The shade tends to blend well with nearby stones and rocks.
Flowering and Fragrance
Living stones produce large flowers, blooming between August and September when grown in the right conditions.
Depending on the species, the daisy-like flowers may appear orange, yellow, or white.
The flowers do not produce a scent, and they do not always appear.
The plant only blooms when cared for correctly.
If the lithops receive too much water or not enough light during the rest period, they may not produce flowers the following season.
Light & Temperature
Lithops require sunlight all year, even during their rest periods.
The plants are winter hardy only in USDA hardiness zones 10 and higher.
If temperatures drop below 40° degrees Fahrenheit (4° C), the plant needs to overwinter indoors or be protected against freezing.
However, it still needs bright sunlight.
When kept indoors, place it in an East, West or South-facing window to provide light throughout the day.
Watering and Feeding
Living stones do not require a lot of water. Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes when cultivating lithops.
From September to April, stop watering the plants.
From May to August, only water the plants on warm, sunny days.
Generally, Do Not use fertilizer. Feeding the plant may change its shape and size.
However, a light diluted 1/4 or 1/2 strength liquid succulent fertilizer should be fine.
Soil & Transplanting
These plants need good drainage. Use a mixture of 75% gravel and sand and 25% standard gardening soil.
Cover the top of the mixture with a layer of sand.
The sand keeps moisture from penetrating the leaves.
As with many succulents, living stones grow well in shallow dishes or glass terrariums.
Another option is to plant the living stones in a clay pot buried in a larger container of sand.
The sand helps keep the roots cool during the winter and warm in summer.
TIP: If using a clay pot buried in sand, water the sand and allow the roots to draw up moisture through the clay pot.
This helps eliminate the risk of over-watering.
Repot living stones every four to five years.
Using fresh sand and soil gives the plants more nourishment, helping to support the root system.
Living stones do not need grooming.
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How to Propagate Living Stones
Propagate lithops with seeds.
- To germinate the seeds, fill a pot with sandy and sprinkle the seeds over the soil.
- Cover the soil with paper and then plastic.
- The paper protects the seeds from direct sunlight, while the plastic holds in the moisture.
- Keep the pot in a bright area with a temperature of about 77° degrees Fahrenheit (25° C).
- After the seedlings sprout, remove the paper and occasionally lift the plastic to air out the pot.
- When the seedlings reach about ¼” inch, transplant them to new pots.
- Maintain moist soil to keep the roots from drying out, and remember to add a layer of sand.
Living Stones Main Pests or Disease Problems
Living stones rarely suffer from pest infestations.
The plants and flowers do not have scents, and they resemble rocks.
In the rare chance the plant attracts pests, remove them with a cotton swab.
While living stones are not toxic, using an insecticide adds toxins to the plant.
Improper care is the biggest threat to living stones.
If the plants receive too much water, they may develop rot.
To avoid rot, follow the recommended watering tips.
Water the plants only on bright, sunny days, and do not water from September to April.
When watering the plant, avoid pouring water over the “leaves.”
The drops of water may cause scorching on the leaves, creating permanent damage.
Pour water slowly over the soil.
Suggested Lithops Uses
Lithops are decorative succulents which look great grown together in clusters or with a variety of other succulents and cacti.
Grow the plants in terrariums or flat dishes.
For the best results, grow living stones in clay pots within larger containers of sand.