Lithops are small, stemless, succulent plants in the Aizoaceae family, indigenous to southern Africa. These strange-looking plants grow in two joined leaves resembling a pebble or craggy stone lying on its side. They can vary in color according to the species. This may range from yellowish-brown to gray, but all have the same general body plan due to convergent evolution.
So what are some interesting facts you may not know about Lithops? Instead of developing conventional flat leaves, lithops make small knobby and stone-like leaves (hence the name living stone). These plants look so much like stones that they wouldn’t look out of place in a gravel pit. They come in different colors and shapes. While some Lithops look like a pebble, others have the shape of a jelly bean. Its resemblance to stones helps Lithops blend in their surroundings. This edible succulent can live up to 50 years.
There are so many fun facts about this strange plant that will surprise you. This article will focus on some of these facts that make lithops so interesting.
1. It is the world’s most camouflaged plant.
The Lithops flower comes in all colors, but they are all tan to brown in direct sunlight. Their bodies are perfectly shaped for blending into rocks. The light color helps them blend in better in direct sunlight. If it’s too dark, they will close up their leaves to prevent water loss. They are mostly perfect for surviving in deserts because of this unique ability.
In their natural habitats in South Africa and Namibia, lithops blend in so well with the desert environment that they can be challenging to locate even for people with years of experience.
2. They survive with little or no water
If you ask anyone who has tried to cultivate lithops, the worst mistake you can make is over-watering them (or watering them at all.) Lithops thrive in the desert conditions of Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and some bordering regions of Angola.
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The one thing these places have in common is the rocky ground and dry conditions. While a few lithops species require up to 600mm of rainfall to survive, most of them require near zero and survive on morning dew.
They also favor extreme temperatures and grow in areas where the summers are hot, and winters are freezing, except for one species located at the coast with moderate temperatures throughout the year.
3. Lithops were discovered in 1811
In 1811, John Burchell, an English explorer, naturalist, traveler, artist, and author, picked up a strange-looking pebble from the stony ground in South Africa. He quickly discovered that the “pebble” was a plant after all. He initially named it Mesembryanthemum turbiniforme, and unfortunately, he didn’t document a detailed physical description to help us know what type of lithops it was.
Nowadays, the name Lithops turbiniformis is rarely used, although, for many years, it was used to describe what we now know as Lithops hookeri.
Several more lithops discoveries were documented as Mesembryanthemum species until 1922, when Nicholas Edward Brown split up the genus based on capsules. Lithops was then conceived and had numerous species that continued to be discovered in the decades that followed. However, the findings between different researchers were so diverse that they could not agree on the relationships between them and what clusters could be named as species. Thus, by the 1950s, little was still known about lithops taxonomically.
This changed when Naureen and Desmond Cone began to study Lithops. They discovered almost all their natural habitats and collected more than 400 samples from different lithops populations. Then, they documented them, assigning them individual identities known as the Cole number, which is still used today. Their studies culminated in a definitive book (Lithops: Flowering Stones) in 1988, which details all the species, subspecies, and varieties of the plant.
There are at least 38 species of lithops and 145 varieties. They all mostly look similar, only differing in color, markings, and texture of the body. They come in various colors, including pink, rust, brown, green, and gray. They also have a vast variation in lines, patches, and dots on the upper surface, which help them with camouflage by hiding most of the leaf surface. They could also be dimples or indentations where these markings appear.
Because of their amazing camouflage abilities, new Lithops species continue to be discovered, with the latest discovery being as recent as 2006.
4. Lithops can live up to a 50 years
Lithops grow very sluggishly and can take up to 3 years to flower. However, because of their ability to store water for months and little need for maintenance, lithops can live for up to 50 years in their natural habitat.
As a matter of fact, you can keep healthy lithops in the same pot for more than 15 years with little water and 4 to 5 hours of direct sunlight every day. Lithops are unlike most succulents in that they don’t have stems. However, their flowers bloom with a short stem.
They flower mainly from March to May in the Southern Hemisphere. All lithops are noonday flowering plants, which means that they flower at noon when the sun is shining the brightest.
5. Lithops are edible
Lithops are nonharmful to humans and pets. As a result, they are popular house plants. What most people don’t know, however, is that lithops are used as a source of food and herbal medicine in some parts of Southern Africa. There are also stories of children in the Namib desert chewing lithops to hydrate in the desert heat.
However, just because they’re safe doesn’t mean you should eat them. They aren’t too tasty anyway.
6. The name lithops comes from a Greek word
These plants belong to the plant family Mesembryanthemaceae (Aizoaceae). Nicholas Edward Brown named Lithops from two Greek words, lithos (stone) and opsis (like), for their deep resemblance to stones. The word lithops is used to describe the plants in both singular and plural forms. Local African names where lithops are found include skaappootjie and beeskloutjie, which mean cattle and horse’s hoof, respectively, for their resemblance to hoof-prints.
7. Lithops are self-sterile
This fact means that they must be pollinated to produce seeds. The seeds are contained in a hydrochastic 4-8 chambered fruiting capsule. The capsules only open when exposed to moisture, revealing tiny seeds.
In their natural habitat, rain opens the capsules and splashes the seeds up to an inch from the mother plant. Once they dry, the capsules close to protect any remaining seeds for the next rain.
How to take care of lithops
As we’ve already established, lithops are popular plants to cultivate at home. While they are naturally found in Namibia and parts of Southern Africa, their seeds are found in many stores and even online.
Lithops are relatively easy to maintain. However, there are a few mistakes you can make in their care and kill them. Here are a few things you should do when growing them.
Lithops are desert plants, so you can bet they require some sunlight to survive. There is nothing like “harsh sunlight” with these plants, so feel free to place them where there is no shade. A South or East window with lots of sunlight is the best place to have them, but remember that insufficient sunlight might cause lost patterns and elongated leaves.
Although too much sunlight is not an issue, too much heat can cause sunburn and damage your lithops’ foliage. Ensure you place them in less sunny pots or cover them up if you realize that the pots absorb too much heat in the summer.
Lithops can tolerate temperatures of 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they are likely to be most healthy in temperatures between 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since the plant may develop rot, it is essential to protect it from extremely low temperatures. Therefore, carry it indoors when the temperatures drop to less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lithops require to be planted in fast-draining potting soil. They grow even better when they are planted in a cactus mix. Pebbles, sand, and anything gritty can be added to the soil to enhance drainage.
Because these plants can store water in their leaves for months, using the wrong watering cycle can lead to their death.
To avoid this, you should water them once a fortnight at most from the end of summer, when the plants are actively growing. During winter, it’s best to leave them without water as it is their dormant season when they are reserving the water in their leaves. Watering them in this period will harm their growth.
Apart from the watering schedules above, another way to determine if it’s time to water your lithops is by observing their physical conditions. For example, if you notice that they have started to pucker, wrinkle or appear to be sunken in the pot, it might be time to water them.
To wrap it up
Lithops are arguably the most intriguing succulent plants. They look like stones but bloom the most colorful flowers. They also survive in harsh conditions and live up to half a century.
Last update on 2023-05-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What is unusual about Lithops? ›
Lithops are popular novelty houseplants. Because they thrive in low humidity, need infrequent watering and care, and are relatively easy to grow, Lithops are popular novelty houseplants. With their small size and slow, compact growth these plants do not take up much room. Lithops are long lived – up to 40 or 50 years.What are some facts about Lithops? ›
They are cultivated worldwide as indoor plant curiosities. The plants are virtually stemless, the thickened leaves being more or less buried in the soil with only the upper surfaces visible. Two leaves grow during each rainy season and form a fleshy roundish structure that is slit across the top.Are Lithops edible? ›
Lithops are edible and some African people actually eat them to quench their thirst. Lijts are popular novelty and house plants. How do they survive without water? Lithops can survive without water for two weeks.Why are Lithops known as living stones? ›
Members of the genus are native to southern Africa. The name is derived from the Ancient Greek words λίθος (líthos) 'stone' and ὄψ (óps) 'face', referring to the stone-like appearance of the plants. They avoid being eaten by blending in with surrounding rocks and are often known as pebble plants or living stones.What does the Bible say about living stones? ›
Because Jesus did first. Looking at verses 4 & 5, we see Jesus referred to as the Living Stone who was rejected by men, but chosen and precious by God. The stone has this idea of God's rule and reign. As the Living stone, it's important to note that he's alive.Do living stones multiply? ›
Living stones naturally multiply by growing new plants on their own in the same container. Once several plants are growing together, it's possible to propagate this species manually by division to prevent them from overtaking the pot.How fast do Lithops grow? ›
The seed of lithops is very fast, but after three to four days you will notice the first miniature green heads as they penetrate the substrate. The germination process lasts about 15 days and during this time we do not open the sowing container in order not to disturb the humidity of the air.What age do Lithops flower? ›
Typically lithops (living stones) won't flower until they are about 3 years old. Once they are the right age to flower some species of lithops will bloom in the late summer or early fall, and others in the late spring. As they grow, living stones should rebloom each year.How big can Lithops grow? ›
Lithops are small and stemless. In fact, most of the plant is underground. Above the ground, they grow up to a height of about half an inch or one inch.Can Lithops get sunburn? ›
Five to six hours of sunlight per day is adequate. It is better if you can give the plant early or late sun. The reason is that in habitat, the taproot stays cooler than it can in a 3-inch pot that gets eight to 10 hours of full sun. Too much direct sun can sunburn and even kill lithops.
Why are my Lithops dying? ›
As with most succulents, the most common causes of a Lithops demise are overwatering and inadequate light. In nature, Lithops have adapted to their harsh conditions by growing with only the very top surface visible above ground.What animal eats Lithops? ›
Again, overwatering Lithops can lead it to attract pests like Spider mites, thrips, scale insects, mealybugs, aphids, snails, slugs, and root-knot nematodes. Also, mice and other small animals may attempt to eat this plant for its water content.How often do you water lithops? ›
Water very sparingly – much less than other succulents. Don't water at all from October until after the old pair of leaves has completely withered away, often not until the following May. Then avoid watering again during the dormant period in summer.What are lithops nicknames? ›
Other nicknames for Lithops are: 'Flowering Stones', 'Pebble Plants', 'Split Rocks', 'Cattle Hooves' and the less subtle 'Little Butts'.How many types of lithops are there? ›
The twelve sacred gemstones of Revelations are Jasper, Sapphire, Chalcedony, Emerald, Sardonyx, Sardius, Chrysolite, Beryl, Topaz, Chrysoprasus, Jacinth, and Amethyst.What is the abandoned stone in the Bible? ›
Immediately, the scripture came to mind from Psalm 118:22-23, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD had done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This stone was left and carved around because it was literally rejected by ancient builders.What does God say about a stone heart? ›
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Living stones prefer plentiful sunlight, all year long. Light is where many succulent gardeners fall short of the needs of their plants. It is crucial that you place this plant in a window where it will receive a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day.How much light do living stones need? ›
They need 6 hours or more of direct sunlight every day. Place the living stones in a south-facing window and they will be happy. Let 100% of the soil volume dry before watering during the spring and summer. These plants thrive in a dry environment.
How long do lithops take to grow from seed? ›
Place in a plastic bag or under a clear plastic lid, but remove once the seeds have sprouted, in anything from a couple of weeks to three months. Leave in situ until they are ready for pricking out, 12-18 months after sowing.What season do lithops grow? ›
Lithops succulents flower in the late autumn or early winter generally, although some species flower in the spring or early summer. A single flower will be pushed up from the crevice between the pair of leaves. However, only plants older than 3 years (and sometimes 5 years) will produce flowers.Do lithops grow pups? ›
These young plants naturally form next to their parent plant, eventually forming a little colony of plants. It's easier to grow lithops by dividing and separating these offsets, but it's a little less fun than growing from seed because the pups are always exact clones of their parents.Are lithops endangered? › Do lithops like to be crowded? ›
Lithops do best in tightly-packed soil, just like their natural habitat, so you'll want to make sure that the soil around the roots is densely packed.Do lithops go dormant? ›
Lithops will go dormant in mid-summer. At this point, stop watering. If the leaves really shrivel, give it a small sip of water, just enough to restore the firm appearance of the plant. Only water until the top 1 cm of soil is moist.Do living stones spread? ›
They will spread outward though, often forming clusters of the stone like formations. The width of each plant can be 1-3″. Since they are so small, they make ideal indoor plants. They live for a long time – up to 50 years!Can lithops survive cold? ›
Lithops will survive, and in some cases plump up and look overall more succulent, when given light shade. These plants will not survive a snowy or wet winter outdoors. They are relatively cold tolerant however, when their roots are dry.Can I put my lithops outside? ›
Lithops can be grown outdoors directly into the ground but because they are so small can easily be covered by taller plants. Growing outdoors in clay pots is great because this allows them to be up off the ground and away from taller plants. Plant Lithops with other succulents with similar growing requirements.What does an overwatered lithops look like? ›
Overwatered lithops are characterized by problems such as brown spots, root rot, white dots, and yellow leaves. In addition, overwatered lithops feel mushy or swollen between your fingers as you touch them. Upon noticing these signs, it is essential that you quickly take action in reversing them before it's too late.
What pots are best for lithops? ›
Plastic and glazed pots work well too. I can snugly fit a 10 pack of small 1cm (<0.5 in) , or 3 - 4 larger lithops (2.5 - 3.5 cm (1 - 1.5 in)), in a 2.5" wide pot that is 3.5" deep. Giving them more room to expand and grow is good.How flammable are succulents? ›
While a few leaves got singed, their high-water content prevented them from burning. Succulents don't carry fire the way flammable plants like eucalyptus, oak, palm and many native chaparral plants do. With 80 percent water content and their unique metabolism, succulents are truly fire resistant.Why did my Lithop turn to mush? ›
This occurs when too much water causes the plant's tissues to become soft and mushy. Therefore, reduce watering and ensure the soil has sufficient drainage to save it. Place it in a sunny spot, so the soil dries out soon.How do you get lithops to flower? ›
Lithops plants grow best in a spot that receives at least five hours of direct sunlight each day. What is this? Situating your plants on a sunny windowsill or underneath a grow light will give them the best chance of producing beautiful blooms.Should you trim lithops roots? ›
Step 3: Trim the roots
The plant can settle better into the soil. You can plant Lithops without trimming the roots but it is important that the roots point straight down. They do not like their roots curled upward, It hinders their growth. Tip: Leave your trimmed Lithops for a couple of days before you plant it.
For example, the skunk cabbage generates heat, which allows it to melt its way through a layer of snow in early spring.What are Lithops used for? ›
It is commonly used as a houseplant or for landscaping. Like all Lithops, it requires extremely well-drained soil. Like all Lithops it also grows in annual cycles, as the leaf-pairs flower, and then each produces a new leaf-pair that replaces the old one (which shrivels away).Are stone plants toxic to dogs? ›
Older plants grow in clumps of “pebbles or stones” giving them their signature look. Lithops will tolerate intense heat and bright, indirect light as well as cold temperatures, but only briefly. These are non-toxic to cats and dogs.What is the smallest Lithops? ›
Lithops werneri is among the smallest species in the genus, if not the smallest of all the Lithops, with stubby, rounded, yet irregularly-lumpy leaf-pairs, mostly light grey or light greenish grey with several dark greenish brown lines and small pellucid dots.How do I identify my Lithops? ›
Lithops are characterized by paired leaves fused in a tapering cone-like body with smooth flat or rounded tops that are adorned with ridges, warts, islands, wrinkles, windows, and sometimes colorful markings. The flowers, which are either white or yellow, emerge from between the leaf pairs in autumn or winter.
What is the meaning of living stone plant? ›
noun. plural living stones. : any of a genus (Lithops of the family Aizoaceae) of very small, stemless, succulent plants of southern Africa that typically have a pair of thickened leaves forming a stonelike body with a slit on top from which a usually solitary, sessile flower emerges : lithops.How many times a year do Lithops split? ›
Lithops will typically split when they are ready to produce new leaves or flower buds. Once mature, the lithops should continue to divide and produce new leaves annually.What are the adaptations of Lithops? ›
Lithops have adapted to desert life by producing hundreds of long-lived seeds which are retained inside dry, capsular fruits. In response to water the capsule valves open releasing the seeds, which quickly germinate taking advantage of the transient conditions.Why do Lithops crack? ›
Therefore, lithops are naturally drought-tolerant and require little water. Water should be withheld completely in the winter. Water very sparingly in summer, as most species undergo a period of summer dormancy and will crack, split or burst if given too much.How do we describe Lithop plant? ›
Lithops francisci, commonly known as one of the living stones or pebble plants, is in the family Aizoaceae. It is endemic to the arid desert environments of Namibia. It is a succulent with a natural habitat in rocky areas.How do living stones get energy? ›
The underground cells are cone-shaped and contain embedded crystals, which likely distribute the light that reaches them, maximizing the plant's potential to turn that light into energy.How often do you water Lithops? ›
Water very sparingly – much less than other succulents. Don't water at all from October until after the old pair of leaves has completely withered away, often not until the following May. Then avoid watering again during the dormant period in summer.Do Lithops camouflage? ›
Lithops, also known as living stones or pebble plants, are little succulent plants that blend in with rocks to avoid being eaten. They're basically the world's most camouflaged plant and have evolved to look like the pebbles and rocks of their native habitats in southern Africa.How big can lithops grow? ›
Lithops are small and stemless. In fact, most of the plant is underground. Above the ground, they grow up to a height of about half an inch or one inch.Why is my Lithop squishy? ›
If your lithops has become wrinkled, mushy, or yellow, it's a sure sign of overwatering. Your plant may also develop mottled brown, blister-like spots known as edema. Leaves overfilled with water may also burst. Stretching and growing tall is another sign of overwatering for this naturally short, stout cactus.
What age do lithops flower? ›
Typically lithops (living stones) won't flower until they are about 3 years old. Once they are the right age to flower some species of lithops will bloom in the late summer or early fall, and others in the late spring. As they grow, living stones should rebloom each year.Why is my lithops growing tall? ›
Too tall means not enough light, or too much water, or both. Lithops need very little water. It could be that your soil holds too much water or that you are watering too often. Of course you shouldn't really be watering at all until the old leaves are gone, certainly not a fat (and tall!)How cold can lithops get? ›
Lithops are not cold hardy, so if you live in a zone that gets colder than 30° F (-1.1° C), it's best to plant this succulent in a container that can be brought indoors.How fast do lithops grow? ›
The seed of lithops is very fast, but after three to four days you will notice the first miniature green heads as they penetrate the substrate. The germination process lasts about 15 days and during this time we do not open the sowing container in order not to disturb the humidity of the air.