Lithops Guide – Learn About Types, Care, Watering, Propagation and More


Are you in a seek of a new plant that is completely out of the ordinary? Offbeat and exceptional, but also easy to care at home… If so you are in the right place. Come and take a look at Lithops, or what they are called “Living Stones”.

Lithops are basically small succulent plants, that are found around the rocky areas of deserts. But very recently, I see them all over the places as decorative plants. Many species of Lithops form in dual, fat and colorful oval leaves, growing close to the surface of the soil like a pretty little stone. Therefore they attract a lot of plant lovers with their quirky vibes.

Although the maintenance of Lithops takes little time and energy, it can be quite tricky for someone who has no previous knowledge of these essentials. I researched very deeply and here I explain everything you need to know about Lithops.

Identification of the Genus

Taxonomy

Lithops is the name of the plant genus categorized under the Aizoaceae (Ice Plant) family. There are many species and subspecies of Lithops, and they are mainly differentiated according to the surface pattern or the color of their flowers.

The name of this genus is coming from Ancient Greek. As you divide the word into two, it means “stone” and “face”. At first, it sounds strange maybe, but the word is used the same in the singular as well as in plural.

These plants are often called pebble plants or living stones, cause they survive the wilderness with the help of their resemblance of a little stone on the ground.

Description

Recognition of a Lithops should be extremely easy since it looks like no other kind. The double leaves shape as individual plants. They are bulbous and mostly convex on the top, close to the soil surface without any stem. New tissue growth happens from the slit between those leaves.

Very thick forming of the leaves contains a white sap inside and a green cover tissue continuing the photosynthesis. As you can see from the section below, inside the mature leaves, new buds grow out.

Adaptations

Lithops originally found at the dry and rocky ground surfaces of South African mountains. For this reason, the translucent tissue in the leaves stocks a huge amount of water in an occasional rainfall. That way they are able to stay alive even though the environment is not so suitable for plantation.

As another adaptation to the area, Lithops have a variety of surface color and texture on the top side of their leaves. These colors and patterns change according to every species and local circumstances. By this feature, they become almost invisible to avoid the wild animals eat them.

How to Care Lithops at Home?

When the natural environment of Lithops taken into account, they can be moved to our urban life, and they make great houseplants. What is crucial about taking care of Lithops indoors, is that to provide them the adequate lighting and a proper watering, so they will thrive. 

Temperature and Light

To begin with, the environment we create for Lithops help us to keep them healthy at indoor conditions. The basic idea is just to mimic their habitat with low humidity, warm temperatures and a lot of sunlight.

The optimal temperatures would be around 20-24 degrees Celcius, which correspond to the room temperature. Lithops withstand up to 30 degrees Celcius. However, avoid the temperatures drop below 10. Cold weather stresses the succulent plants.

Additionally, you should place your Lithops in a well-lit location close to a bright windowside in your house. Because they are adapted to get exposed to intense sun, they will do much better when they are kept at a sunny spot.

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Lithops produce brighter colors and stay close to the soil surface if they get the sufficient direct sunshine everyday.

If your Lithops start to grow too tall, check out my previous guide post for more information.

Soil Type and Planter

Since Lithops originally grow around rocky hills of South Africa, these plants hate to sit inside the water soaking soil. When the roots of the succulents stay wet for a long time, they rot very quickly. The wrong type of soil can kill your Lithops. 

You should use a soil that is extremely well draining. Choose sandy and grainy soils, preferably the ones that are mixed with pebbles. Lithops do not require deep soil. They are small plants overall.

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Also for achieving this very well drainage, always plant these succulents inside the pots with drainage holes. If you have more than one Lithops, they make great arrangements with the wider planters.

Watering

While succulents do not need a frequent watering, Lithops, in particular, requires very little water or none at all. The water needs differ according to their growth cycle.

Life Cycle of Lithops

One of the most strange things about Lithops, it creates a new pair of leaves annually, while the old ones shrivel and fall off. Irrigation frequency also change through this cycle. Although the timetable is changing for each species, I explain one cultivation method that works in general.

Lithops show up as a pair of fat leaves, a little part above the soil. They spend the summer season mostly dormant. So in this period, they do not need any additional water or nutrition, because they already stored what they will need in the whole time.

Usually, in August or September, the growing season start for these plants. That is when you should give water to your Lithops. The leaves are much more swollen and the crack between the leaves starts to split.

Flowering season for Lithops is around late autumn. A little bud appears inside the crack and it turns to a white or yellow flower. The body of the plant will also grow in size. Because a new pair of leaves starts to develop inside the old ones.

The growth continues in the winter time too. Newly produced leaves get visible inside the split in the middle. These young leaves are fed by the storage of old leaves while they share the same root system. You do not water the plant throughout this period.

When the spring comes, the old leaves will be shriveled. You can remove them when they are completely thin and dry. Meanwhile, it is okay to begin watering the new leaves. Start with little amounts and increase gradually. By this way, the plant gets ready for the dormant period.

Seeds and Propagation

Lithops grow very fast from a seed. However, the average time for the first flowering is usually 3-4 years. They produce their seed by pollination. The raindrops carry the seeds around and by this way, the capsules open with the moisture to produce the new plant.

In addition to that, it is very simple and easy to propagate Lithops if you have multi-headed plants. All you have to do is, splitting the root gently whit a clean cutter, and planting back into the soil immediately. After just that, you will have two separate plants out of one root.

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Combinations of Lithops

The best setting for these unusually beautiful succulents is a wide platter or dish garden, if you ask me. You have the chance to speak up your creativity when combining many different sizes and colors, also adding some decorative stones to resemble their original habitat.

Shallow and wide planters or ceramic dishes are ideal for these kinds of arrangements. Approximately 8-10 centimeters of soil depth should leave enough space for the roots.

Nevertheless, if you be careful on how to combine the species inside one pot, it would be easier to provide the needs of every species properly. I would recommend keeping the types with a similar timeline together.

Bonus Facts

  • Lithops live a long time. They can keep alive for 40 – 50 years.
  • You can maintain a Lithops in the same pot for 10 – 20 years, and it stays healthy.
  • Lithops are safe. They are non-toxic to pets and children.
  • A Lithops generates a new pair of leaves every year, with the same color/texture and similar size.

Cheatsheet

  • Lithops will thrive in low humidity.
  • Take care of them with watering properly, giving adequate light and using the proper soil.
  • To avoid them elongating, around 4 – 5 hours of direct lighting is recommended daily. Expose them to sunlight in the morning period.
  • They grow actively from early autumn to spring, and they are dormant during the summer.
  • You should water Lithops at the beginning of growing season, and water the new leaves during the springtime. 
  • If the body gets wrinkly at the bottom part, it means you under-watering your Lithops.
  • If the leaves are transparent and squishy, it means you over-watering your Lithops.
Via Flickr

Lithops are maybe the weirdest type of the succulent plants, and it differs slightly from the other common types, but they are definitely worth to give a chance. You can maintain these plants with a little knowledge and minimal effort for decades. I believe they will be coloring many more houses in a very short time.