Lithops: How To Grow And Care For Living Stone Plants

Ed Wike
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Lithops Overview

Lithops is a member of the pebble plant family. Characterized by their flat, windowed appearance, they resemble little stones. There are many varieties in the family, some of which have translucent windows and some of which are solid and more spherical in appearance. There are also a number of lithops species that have bright flowers.

These plants are members of the growing group called geophytes. This translates to “earth plants”. They all grow from a small bulbous corm, live buried in the ground and grow¬ing upward rather than outward. It is their¬ unique¬ adaptations to their environment that have allowed them to exist for so long, and to survive in such varied situations.

For the grower, it is important to get the seeds started in a proper medium so they can germinate. The chief requirements of the seedling lithops is a good source of light, and plenty of air flow.¬

Read on to learn about how to grow Lithops plants. Continue to Page 2 for a complete how to guide.

All About Lithops

Plants: Living Stones

Did you know that you can grow a living stone? You can. These little succulent plants are called Lithops and they are the survivalists plant. Lithops are native to Madagascar and Southern Africa. The only time Lithops show their little hidden germination button, is when they have the right amount of sunlight. The Lithops plant lives for decades. And Lithops grow very slowly. Their growth is so slow that the average Lithops plant will realize its full potential of 4 inch plant in a mere 32 years. It is as if the plant was frozen, and suddenly thawed.

You will make every Lithops plant you buy a living stone by keeping it in an ideal habitat. This will speed up the process, but even these plants that do not have ideal conditions will put out a few small, white and pink, flowers that smell like honey.

The benefits of the Lithops plant are numerous. When your other plants start wilting because the water has evaporated, the Lithops will remain fresh looking for weeks. Lithops can be placed at odd and extreme angles in your yard,pot, or outdoors, as long as the sun is just right. You can grow your own Lithops plant, in extreme weather conditions too.

Lithops Lifecycle

Lithops, also known as Living Stones, are unique and special plants. They have a flat tiny body that grows between stones in the Karoo desert in South Africa. Lithops have thick succulent leaves that grow in a variety of colors such as white, yellow, green, and brown. Their succulent leaves are so effective at storing water that they can survive long periods of drought and can go for several years without water. Lithops mainly come in 2 colors, yellow and brown, but many think of Lithops as having white leaves, otherwise known as the white polka dot plant. Lithops are very special plants because they do alternate their day and night cycles- similar to flowers. Lithops are one of the most fascinating plants found in the succulent family. Lithops are generally grown as indoor plants but have become popular in the past ten years as a house hold plant.

A few months before planting Lithops you should start getting your plant ready for propagation. Lithops will need at least 6 weeks of darkness before they can be planted. You can start preparing your Lithops a week before the end of winter. A week before the end of winter you need to start giving your plant 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. You should do this for two weeks straight. By doing this it will start responding to the dark and become dormant before it is planted outside the next spring.

Lithops can grow to be 15 cm in diameter.

Types of Lithops

The Living Stone plant is the common name for a collection of plants with a trunk that looks like a stone. The various species of plants are mainly from Southern Africa and are called Living Stone plants because of their appearance. Generally, the trunks of the plants are very short, making them look like a small stone and the resemblance to a stone helps them to survive in the arid African environment.

Since the plants live in South Africa, they are also called the “native” Lithops.

They are also called pebble plants since that is how the plants look like. All the plants have very tiny leaves with a heart shaped appearance, similar to a Moutain Daisy plant. If you get a plant with fully opened leaves, you may not even realize that it’s a Living Stone. During their maturing process, the plant forms a solid trunk, just like a stone, and the leaves are only shown when the plant is mature. This takes a long time involving several months depending on the size of the plant.

Lithops Care

If you want to keep your Lithops, you will need to water them from time to time. The best times to water are when the plant feels completely dry and then wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again. This will depend on where you live and the temperature, though. During winter, they will not need as much water as during summer. If the plant starts to look rotten, pull it out of the pot and check to see if the bulb is white underneath. If it is, it is bad and you will need to throw out the plant. Often these plants come in pots with stones in them. The pots can be turned upside down for a while to let the roots grow without being in direct light for a couple of weeks. Further grows and cultivating requires allowing the plant to feel dry. Lithops can be cultivated inside, but they will grow slower. It is best to start cultivating them outside. If you have no other plants and only have rocks, you can take those rocks and plant the Lithops into them.

Light

Because the Lithops species was originally adapted to living in full sun, you must grow these plants in bright light to keep them healthy. If you live in the tropics, and your house has full sun for the majority of the day, it is the perfect place to start.

But if your home doesn’t have full sun, you will have to supplement the light with artificial lighting. In the Northern Hemisphere, you will need to provide a minimum of four hours of sunlight each day for your plants to be healthy. A location with southern exposure is ideal and will help make sure they stay warm during the fall and winter months.

It is also recommended that you avoid cold drafts in the rooms where you grow them. Also keep in mind that the Lithops flower during the fall and winter.

Temperature

Living stones are an uncommon type of succulent that grows in the form of a tiny, flattened plant. Plenty of sunlight is required in order for them to bloom. In basic terms, lithops can be grown in the same conditions as cacti.

Lithops prefer to be slightly moist to totally dry, and they should be planted in a coarse potting mix with some sand added to allow for better drainage. They are not very fussy when it comes to soil, and a succulent growing mix is a good choice.

Place the pot of lithops in an area that gets plenty of sunlight. Direct sunlight is best when the plants are young, but as they age, you may need to move them to an area that receives filtered sunlight.

As with cacti, the best results are achieved when the pot is placed in an area with good air circulation. A bit of humidity is appreciated by the plants, but do not allow them to be in contact with moisture for an extended period of time.

If the pot starts to collect moisture at the bottom, it may be a sign that you need to place it in a more well-ventilated area. Be sure that the lithops do not come into contact with hard water that contains a high amount of calcium. Placing them next to a water source or using limestone chips in the pot will prevent this from happening.

Water

Water, as in tentatively moist soil. Teething plants do need water and do get thirsty. How often it is your choice. But if you weren’t inclined to do it anyway, these suggestions will not make you.

Two things to remember when you do water your darling darlings. First, water around the actual plant, not the leaves. Leave that outer layer (called the skin) alone. Not only does it serve to retain water, (pushing it out of the way will force it to replace that water quicker) it is an exposure of the self defense. Of little no value to the plant and sending the wrong message to the plant mutts that love to eat their faces. (see last paragraph)

Secondly, don’t feed them. Or feed them lightly. They do not eat from the heart. And require no fertilizer. If you insist on feeding, get some decent plant food and squirt plant food on the leaves. Foolish. Feeding, though, will cause a flush of growth that looks cool but is mostly stems and leaves and is not really healthy for the plant.

Soil

Unlike plants that have roots, Living Stone Plants absorb water through their leaves. So it is better leveled, sterile and sandy soil with little organic matter are excellent choices for this plant.

The best location for growing Living Stone Plants is outdoors in partial shade when temperatures range above 50F. They can also be grown indoors too but keep the temperature below 50F.

If you are able to, rotate the plant regularly at 15 to 30 degree. For more information, you can read our full guide on Lithops growing and care.

Fertilizer

The rule of thumb for fertilizer is to fertilize in the early spring while the plants are coming out of dormancy and then again in the late summer to early fall just as the plants are getting ready to go into dormancy.

The basic fertilizer should be diluted to half strength and should be applied using either a plain old 20-ounce plastic water bottle or a fertilizer wand.

When applying the fertilizer it is very important that it is done slowly and that the plants be allowed to dry out in between fertilizing. Keeping the watering can off the leaves is key to preventing fertilizer burn.

Also, it is very important not to allow any fertilizer to get on the stems of the plant because it will burn the plant and can cause the stem to rot and die back.

Be sure to keep the stems clean by removing any dust or plant material that might have accumulated on them.

You already know the basics of fertilizer, but fertilizer is not the only thing that you should be providing for your Lithops plants. You will also need to provide a 2:1 (phosphorus to potassium) ratio fertilizer called “Bloom”.

By providing this ratio of fertilizer to your Lithops, you will help to stimulate blooming. The bloom fertilizer should also be provided in the early spring (March) and in the late summer or early fall (August or September).

Propagation

Propagation of Lithops via seeds is the standard method. Lithops seed is sold with the percentage of germination printed on the packet. Germination rate for Lithops seeds can vary widely from 10% to 90%, depending on the year, the continent where they were produced and how the seeds have been stored.

We have found that a germination rate of 50-60% is not unusual if Lithops are seed collected and sown in late summer. Lithops that have been freshly imported from Africa usually don't germinate well.

For germination, Lithops need temperatures of 60-65° F. (16-18° C.) during the day and 50-55° F. (10-13° C.) at night.

Keep the substrate on the moist side, but avoid any standing water or soil that is too wet or the seeds will rot.

Seeds are water sow, indirect sunlight. In the autumn they germinate rapidly.

After emergence, keep the seedlings undercover for a few months until the first summer has passed. At this time they are old enough to be moved into more direct sunlight.

The seedlings can be moved up into larger pots when the roots have filled the pot. Anchoring the plants in a substrate like sand that is open to the bottom will make it easier to keep the substrate on the moist side.

Repotting

How do you care for living stone plants to keep them going strong? Lithops need a little water every couple of days or so, and the soil should dry out nearly all the way before you water them again.

If you live outdoors, it’s very likely you don’t have to worry about watering them at all. They’re hardy plants that like it dry. You could even start with a new lithops and put it directly into the ground. In fact, if you do this, you’ll benefit even more by gradually allowing the plant to adapt to warmer temperatures outside over time.

If you’re in an area with little natural rainfall, you can transfer a lithops to your indoor garden. Once indoors, you’ll need to water it more often.

The main limiting factor indoors is sunlight. Lithops will grow best in medium to bright light. If you want a pretty, little lithop, you’ll have to keep it at the brightest light you can. But if you’re after a large, spectacular plant (that’s a bit rarer), you’ll probably want to keep them in lower light.

Pruning…?

Lithops are very easily grown. If you follow my instructions, you will find that your Lithops grow to flower in about 6 to 8 months after sowing.

Lithops are fairly slow growing, and they flower only once in their lifetime, usually after 10 years or so.

Once flowering has taken place, Lithops will tend to shrivel up and die, and thereafter you will need to replace your Lithops with cuttings or seeds to grow more plants.

The point about Lithops dying after flowering is so important, that I will repeat it here. Lithops are easy to propagate, so if you have a special Lithops specimen, such as a very large or a particularly fine specimen, you can easily propagate it, by taking a cutting in the summer time.

Choose a piece of the plant with a stem four to six inches long.

Remove the leaves from the cutting and place the stem in a glass of water.

Keep the cutting in a brightly lit position out of direct sunlight.

Roots will begin to grow from within the cutting, but since Lithops roots are very tiny and sensitive, you must ensure that the plant is well hydrated.

Gently spray the leaves of your rooting Lithops every day with luke-warm water.

Lithops Problems

Dangerous Insects, And Pests.

The vast majority of carnivorous plants are found in warm climates or tropical areas. However, there are some species that can be found as far north as Canada and Alaska and also in other regions in the United States and Europe.

Some of these carnivorous plants can also be grown indoors and are an excellent addition to the home. One such carnivorous plant is a succulent plant that is native to southern Africa. Lithops, also called living stone plants, are excellent for growing indoors because they are unique looking plants and also have a relatively low light requirement. Lithops plants are grown for their interesting looks and do not need a lot of care to be happy and healthy.

In the past, plants in the Lithops genus were sometimes mistaken for pebbles and when discovered were often picked up and brought home as curiosities/souvenirs of the plant from the region. However, a bit of care is all it takes to grow these plants into healthy flowering potted plants.

Growing Problems

Lithops are essentially hardy plants, so they are easy to grow, but there are some common problems that can be easily avoided.

One of the main problems is that many people buy the wrong kind of Lithops.

This is usually done to get bigger plants, but the wrong kind of Lithops will not live for very long and it makes it feel like you can never have a Lithops plant that will live for very long.

Another common problem is keeping the soil too wet.

Most Lithops will die within a few days if there is excessive water retention. The best way to avoid this is to water your Lithops once or twice a week and only when the soil feels like it is dry or very dry.

Mealybugs are the biggest problem many Lithops growers have.

Mealybugs relate to the plant by sucking its sap.

After a few weeks the plant will start to die and you will also see little white balls of bug stuff in your pot.

This is caused by the bugs losing moisture on the pot and producing these to.

Lithops can also suffer from too much water in general, as mentioned above. All you will see is a brown tinge on the leaves and these will also start to close up.

These problems can be avoided by:

  • Using a very well drained soil
  • Not watering too much

Pests

Although it does not suffer from many pests and diseases, Lithops is a succulent, and succulents are the next victim after ferns. They will rot if you do not pay attention.

The most common pests are mealy bugs. They are not really pests, but more like crawlers. They travel around on the sides of the plant, until they feel some moisture, and then they go in and just make your plant look ugly. The best way to prevent them is to water your plants from underneath and to keep humidity at a minimum.

If you already have mealy bugs, then you should use the coarsest side of a sponge to clean them off, and then hose them off with warm water. Do not use any sort of chemicals or sprays.

Diseases

Prone to a few diseases, such as powdery mildew, rust/yellowing, leaf spots and irregular growth, you can spot and treat the following:

Powdery Mildew: Leaves will develop whitish growth areas that can progress to the rest of the leaves, even the flowers. This is caused by an abundance of moisture and poor air circulation in the terrarium. Using a fungicide is the best solution.

Rust/Yellowing: This is usually a sign of a lack of appropriate light. It's a slow process, so it's better to check a bit more often than just every once in a while. In the meantime, cut off the affected leaves.

Leaf Spots: This is another occurrence of poor light and/or humidity. Cut off the spots and dust with white paint or lime sulfur.

Improper Growth: Too much light, temperature below the ideal growth area for the plant. Cut back the top, try increasing the humidity if it's too low.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Lithops?

A lithops is any plant in the genus Lithops. The name means "Living Stones" in Greek.

There are over one hundred species in this genus, which are native to Southern Africa. Due to their ability to blend in with their surroundings (think camoflage), these plant species have been called living stones.

The vast majority of lithops are either perennials or annuals which are sold commercially. Lithops are grown as garden plants, as house plants, and as decorative items.

The plants have thick leaves that are fused together which is what allows them to withstand the harsh climates where they grow in nature. The leaves are usually green and either free form or in clusters.

Lithops are classified as succulents, since they store water in their leaves or roots. Many Lithops have milky sap which is the plant's way of protecting itself, just like the thorns on a cactus.

Q: What is Blue Witchford Lithops?

Blue Witchford Lithops is a relatively recent cross between two species of plants called Living Stones: the broad yellow Living Stones (Lithops spp.) and Burgundy Stars (Lithops spp.).

It's hard to believe that Lithops are not related to plants, though they are not related to one another. The only thingly they share is their classification as succulent plants. They are actually related to a distant relative of peas and beans.

Blue Witchford Lithops should not be confused with other blue-spotted Lithops. So many people are trying to breed and create new variations of their popular white-spotted ones. Blue spots vary in shades, from dark navy blue to cerulean and turquoise.

But you won't see many blue-spotted ones for sale, because they are so difficult to produce. In order to create down dark blue spots or even light blue or white spots, it takes a great deal of time in the breeding process for the spots to appear. In hybrid plants this is common because of the amount of blue-colored pollen. Plants that naturally don't have as much blue pollen will take much longer to display blue coloring.

Q: Are lithops poisonous?

The publication "The book of house plants" by Brian Mathew, states that these plants are not toxic and can be left out on the dinner table.

My (Kathy) own experience though suggests that the fine white powder contained within the plants is somewhat like chalk dust, and should be kept away from open cuts or sensitive mucus membranes, as is common sense for any powder.