Lithops are one of the most unique succulent plants you can grow. Also called living stones, their crazy-cool appearance makes them both a curiosity and a prized treasure for houseplant enthusiasts. Yes, lithops can be a challenge to grow, but success is possible if they receive enough sun and are grown in very well-drained potting mix. You also have to follow a particular watering schedule for the greatest chance of success growing living stones. You’ll learn more about how to take care of these tiny treasures later in this article, but let’s start with a better description of this funky little plant and why every houseplant lover should learn how to grow lithops.
What Are Lithops?
Lithops are succulents in the family Aizoaceae. These little charmers are in the genus Lithops, and they are native to South Africa and Namibia. They really do look like stones. Their natural habitat is arid, rocky areas, which is why they evolved such a clever camouflage to protect themselves from browsing herbivores.
Each lithops plant has a pair of leaves that look more like squishy rubber pads than leaves, with a fissure separating them. A new pair of leaves emerges from the fissure each season, often in spring when the old leaves split open, revealing the emergence of these new leaves. Once this happens, the old leaves shrivel and die. Lithops have a single long taproot with small root hairs protruding from it.
In the autumn, a single flower emerges from the middle fissure. The flowers are yellow or white and sometimes they have a sweet and pleasant fragrance. The flowers are daisy-like and about a half-inch across. They open in the afternoon and close late in the day.
All lithops are very small plants, only growing an inch or so above the soil’s surface. This makes them a great houseplant choice for a small apartment, a sunny windowsill, or a well-lit countertop or vanity.
Habitat / Region
In the wild, Lithops inhabit vast dry regions of South Africa. Like a cactus, they survive due to their capacity to store water for long periods of time. The leaves are thick to store enough water for the plants to survive for months without rain.
And because they thrive in low humidity and need infrequent watering and care, Lithops make great houseplants. They just need a good amount of direct sunlight.
During the summer months, Lithops are dormant, resting as they do in the wild.
But the end of summer or early fall, the plants will begin growing and a beautiful white or yellow flower will unfold.
If you do decide to buy one for your home, don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t bloom the first year. Lithops generally take between three to five years before they begin flowering.
Lithops dormancy periods
One of the most critical things to understand when it comes to caring for lithops is their growth cycle. In their native climate, lithops have two periods of dormancy. After the new leaves develop in the spring and the summer soil dries out, lithops cease growing and shift into a dormant state throughout the hottest part of the year. When growing lithops as houseplants, it’s important to understand that this dormancy is normal, and the plant should be allowed to dry out in the summer as it would in its native climate.
The second dormancy period occurs after the autumn flowering cycle is finished. During the winter months, the plants slow down again and stop growing. Watering should slow to a near stop during the winter months, too
When to water living stones
Since lithops evolved in a dry, hot climate, and they have thick, fleshy, water-storing leaves, it stands to reason that they require only minimal irrigation. Here are a few points to remember when it comes to watering lithops:
- The plants should be kept almost completely dry during the winter.
- Only begin to consistently water them after they’ve split open and the new set of leaves has begun to develop in the spring. The plant can then be given a small amount of water every 10 to 14 days using a small watering can.
- Then, slow down the watering in the heat of the summer, during the plant’s second dormancy.
- Begin increasing the frequency of irrigation again in the autumn, when the plants come into flower.
- Their growth is largely focused on the autumn, and that’s when they require the most water.
In other words, don’t water during the hot summer or the cold winter.
How to take care of living stones
Beyond being mindful of their watering needs, caring for these tiny houseplants requires just a few other important tasks.
- Pot them in sandy potting medium with excellent drainage. A cactus mix, with extra perlite or pumice tossed in, is the best soil for lithops. If the soil has too much moisture, the plant will rot. Too much water is often fatal.
- After the new leaves emerge, the old leaves shrivel and dry. They can be cut or otherwise removed from the plant using a needle-nose pruners if you desire. Otherwise, they’ll eventually just drop away on their own.
- Lithops require ample sunlight; 5 or 6 hours of direct sunlight a day is best. A south-facing window is ideal. Spin the pot a quarter turn every few days to keep the growth even.
- If your lithops plant collection is outdoors in the summer, put them in a sunny spot under the eaves of the house or under another cover to shield them from exposure to rainwater since they should be kept dry and dormant during the heat of summer. Only water lithops in the summer if the leaves show signs of puckering. Even then, only add a small amount of water (1 or 2 tablespoons).
- There is no need to fertilize lithops as they are accustomed to living in ‘lean’ soils with very few nutrients