Plants

Living stones, Lithops

Lithops

Ulrike Hanninger Ulrike Hanninger

At first glance, Lithops appear almost like real stones – but when they bloom, Living Stones are the eye-catcher on every window sill. Here, we introduce to you the unusual plants and give you tips on how to care for them.

Growth type
  • Succulent
Flower color
  • yellow
  • white
Flowering time (month)
  • September
page format
  • elliptiques
  • round
Light
  • sunny
Soil type
  • sandy
Soil Moisture
  • dry to moderately dry
Nutrient requirements
  • low in nutrients
Humus
  • low humus
Decorative or utility value
  • Leaf ornaments
Winter Hardness
  • frost-sensitive
Use
  • Interior greening
  • Winter garden
Garden style
  • Pot garden

Origin

Lithops are commonly known as Living Stones – and there is hardly any other way to describe them more accurately. Almost no other plant has managed to adapt so perfectly to its environment. You can spot them in their natural environment only when they bloom.

From a botanical point of view, the living stones belong to the genus Lithops and are succulents from the Stone Plant family (Aizoaceae). The botanical genus name refers to the great similarity of the plants with stones (Greek "lithos" for stone and "ops"for face, appearance). Living stones are native to South Africa. The botanists introduced their own terminology to describe this very special genus. The plant body is known as the head, for example. In our latitudes you can find them as exotic houseplants on many window sills and there are several enthusiastic collectors as well.

Growth

Growth of the living stones can only be described as bizarre. The upturned conical body (head) consists of a rounded, thick pair of leaves that grow together except for a gap or notch in the middle. In terms of color, living stones are also similar to real stones and are gray to brown — often patterned and covered with dots or flat textures or spots. Every year in spring a new pair of leaves appears in the center while the old one dries up. Later on, more leaves might sprout. The curious tiny creatures usually only reach a maximum of 1.18 inches in height, with some exceptions reaching heights of up to 3.93 inches. In their dormant period (between October to February) they retract almost completely; you can hardly see them. Once mature, living stones can grow to almost look like a carpet and develop strong bulbous roots. Depending on the species, there can be up to 20 heads, for example in the Lithops salicola.

Leaves

The leaves are the body of the living stones. This makes them look completely different from conventional leaves.

Living stones in the non-flowering period

Other than during the flowering period, the Lithops gracilidelineata ssp. brandbergensis look quite "stone-like" in a muted, albeit beautifully grained brown-gray color

Flowers

The flowers are usually yellow or white. They slide out of the crevice or notch of the plant body and usually open in the fall.

Location

The easy-to-care-for succulents need a bright to sunny place and should not be colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit even in winter.

Substrate

Living stones are not fond of nutrient-rich soil. A nutrient-rich soil will lead to bulky heads that do not form flowers. They only retain their special shape in a nutrient-poor, low-humus substrate. A mixture of sand and Cactus soil. First fill a layer of coarse pebbles in the planter. It helps prevent stagnant water and root rot. Small stones or gravel on top of the soil emphasize the similarity between the living and the "dead" stones and makes for an eye-catching arrangement in your home.

Watering

As succulents, Living Stones need to be watered sparingly or moderately. Ensure water does not enter the crevices between the leaves while watering. The accumulated water could lead to rot. Also, keep checking if water has accumulated in the planter and if so, remove it immediately. If the plants are in the dormant phase and almost fully retracted, you can stop watering completely.

Lithops gracilidelineata in the flowering period

The same plant, at a different time: The large yellow flowers of the Lithops gracilidelineata ssp. brandbergensis span almost the entire plant body

Fertilizing

For frugal houseplants, half the concentration of cactus fertilizer every two to three years is more than sufficient. Living stones should be fertilized when they are not in their resting phase — preferably in spring, as soon as the new leaves are clearly visible.

Repotting

Living Stones have tap roots that grow deep inside the soil with age. So choose appropriately tall planters with enough space below. A new pot is required only if the plant has reproduced to such an extent that there is no longer enough space for all heads. If you take good care, this should be the case about every three years. The best time to repot is in spring just before the new shoots sprout.

Species

There are around 40 different species of Lithops. The Living Stones can roughly be divided into white and yellow flowering species.

Lithops lesliei produce 1.18 inch large flowers in a rich golden yellow color. They can develop up to ten heads and prefer soil with a high proportion of quartz sand. Lithops comptonii also have yellow flowers. They have a gray-green and olive textured body. The body of Lithops turbiniformis is reddish clay in color, the species also grows in the wild and has web-shaped grooves. The flowers are yellow in color.

Combination of living stones and actual stone

Living Stones and actual stones can make wonderful combinations

Lithops bella, on the other hand, has white flowers and has a yellowish to ocher-colored body with dark marbling. The white flowers of Lithops marmorata give off a pleasant fragrance and stand out against the gray-green body.

A peculiar species is Lithops optica f. rubra, because its body is purplish-red in color. The flowers are white with a yellow eye. However, it is not easy to procure – the best way to find it is in one of the Lithops forums on the Internet.

Propagation

Living stones are propagated in early spring or summer by sowing. They are light germinators, which means that their seeds begin to germinate once they are placed on a moistened substrate. The ideal temperature for this is 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The germination time is, depending on the environmental conditions, 5 to 20 days. To speed up the process, you can also sow them under glass or foil, thus increasing the humidity. You need to ventilate it once a day, so as to avoid mold growth. The substrate must always be kept moist in the first few days. The first flowers will bloom after the third year.

Diseases and Pests

Mealy bugs like to nest in the dried leaf covers. They can also be found in the leaf crevices after the protruding flowers have widened the plant body a little. The seedlings of the living stones are frequently attacked by dark-winged fungus gnats and their larvae. The result is that the body takes on a "glassy" appearance and eventually dries up and dies.

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