Lithops are also referred to as Pebble plants, Living stones, or Butt Plants. These South African natives are a genus of succulent plants in the ice plant family (Aizoaceae). They thrive in low humidity, need very little water, require little care, and live an incredibly long time (40-50 years in their native habitat). It is no wonder why these low-maintenance succulents are such popular novelty houseplants.
Water every 2 weeks during the active growing season.
Thrives in medium to bright indirect light, but can tolerate low indirect light.
10a to 11b
Optimal growing range is between 65-80°F (18.33-26.67°C)
Coarse, well-draining soil
½-1.5” (1.27-3.8 cm)
Pebble plants, Living stones, or Butt Plants
During late summer to late fall, daisy-like yellow, pale orange or white flowers with many petals are produced.
Lithops are non-toxic to humans or pets
They usually only have a pair of leaves, which look more like stones than leaves. Although, some Lithops species will produce multi-headed plants. A fissure separates the leaves and small holes (epidermal windows) top of the leaves. The windowed cells allow light into the inner portion of the leaf. This is where light is diffused before reaching the chlorophyll, which is scattered along the interior leaf margins. These stemless succulents rarely grow more than an inch above the soil. Taproots join abruptly at the base of the leaves. Older Lithops form clumps of colorful pebbles in their pot.
Thick leaves can store enough water for the plants to survive for months without water. In periods of drought Lithops shrink and shrivel below the soil level. With their small size and slow, compact growth, these plants do not take up much room. Another bonus is that Lithops are non-toxic to humans or pets.
Over 35 species and over 45 varieties of Lithops exist. All looking quite similar to each other. Although, differing mainly in the shape, markings, color, and texture of the body. Colors range in shades of gray, brown, rust, green and pink. Considerable variations in the patterns of dots, lines or patches on the upper surface that help them to mimic their surroundings.
Watch our Lithops time-lapse video below or keep reading.
Light for Lithops
In their native environment, Lithops have adapted to tolerate harsh sunlight. Therefore, the best way to care for Lithops is to provide 4-5 hours of early sunlight. Partial shade is preferred in the afternoon. Low light levels will make Lithops highly susceptible to rotting and fungal infection.
Even though these novel plants are sun-lovers, they are susceptible to sunburn. Intense heat can damage their foliage. Read more about succulent sunburn here. If placed in direct sun, make sure their containers do not absorb too much heat in the summer afternoon. They are relatively easy to grow and care for if given sufficient bright light, kept in well-draining soil, with proper watering.
If you are unable to naturally give your Lithops sufficient light, a grow light is another option. Insufficient light can cause elongated leaves and lost patterns on the leaves. Read more about my favorite grow light here. Plants grown in strong light will develop hard, strongly colored skins. The thick skin is resistant to damage and rot. However, persistent overwatering can be fatal.
How to water Lithops
Lithops are able to survive in these dry areas because of their capacity to store water. Almost the entire plant is devoted to this function. Your watering schedule for your Lithops plant will depend on your climate. They have the ability to store water for months in their leaves. Overwatering or watering at the wrong time in their yearly cycle of growth can be the kiss of death for your plant. It is essential to water only during certain stages and to keep the soil dry at other stages of their growth.
My preferred way to water is from the bottom up. This allows the Lithops plant to drink enough water slowly. I do not water my Lithops until the leaves are slightly wrinkled. If it starts to sink deeper into the pot and feels softer than usual, it will most likely need a drink. Because Lithops store up that water for future months, be sure to water thoroughly. It is best to water in the mornings. Excess water can evaporate and the upper layers of soil can dry out fairly quickly if watered in the morning.
Water your plant every two weeks when your Lithops are actively growing. When the plant goes dormant, stop watering (depending on your climate). Old leaves will start to die and new lithops leaves will begin to grow. The new leaves will absorb all of the water and nutrients from the old leaves. They do not need anything more. In fact, watering during this time could lead to your plant’s demise.
When your lithops are starting to split, do not water. Wait until it has completely shed its outer leaves. If water is given too soon, the old leaves will try to continue to grow and the plant will not develop properly. Remember, the old leaves should totally dry up as the new leaves are growing. Once the days get shorter and the temperature gets cooler in fall, the plants will be active again.
Resume watering once the remains of the old leaves are completely shriveled up and dry. In late summer to early fall you can water when the plant resumes growth and bloom. The first sign of growth is when the fissure between the leaves begins to separate in preparation for flowering.
After the old leaves are dry and the flower begins to die, stop watering. Flowering typically occurs between late summer or the end of fall. In most climates new growth occurs during fall and spring, and old leaves completely dry out between late spring and early to mid-summer.
Here is a Lithops growth chart to help better explain their cycle. Of course these are broad estimates, but still pretty typical for most climates.
Soil for Lithops
Soil that retains too much water can cause Lithops skins to burst as they over-expand. Therefore, plant Lithops in a coarse, well-draining soil. A cactus mix or a fast-draining potting soil, amended with sand or perlite can help with soil drainage. Lithops plants have an extensive root system requiring a larger pot than the plant size would indicate. Roots need adequate room to grow. Plant the top of the Lithops just slightly above the surface of the soil, rather than at the soil surface as would occur in nature.
Temperature for Lithops
Lithops can tolerate temperatures up to 90-100°F (32.22-37.78°C) as long as there is plenty of fresh air. However, Lithops prefer temperatures between 65-80°F (18.33-26.67°). Temperatures below 40°F (4.44°C) may cause rot. Protect these beauties from freezing temperatures. Never allow the plants to freeze.
Fertilizing your Lithops
Lithops do not really get any fertilization in their natural habitat. However, some added fertilizer will encourage your Lithops to bloom. Feed it just before its normal blooming season with a small amount of heavily diluted cactus fertilizer. A fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in potassium during the Spring season is preferred. Do not apply the fertilizer directly to the leaves of the plant as this may burn or damage it.
When to Repot Lithops
Only re-pot your Lithops plant during the beginning of the growing season. Lithops’ roots must be sufficiently developed before any repotting is done. This is typically around 2 years. I only re-pot my Lithops if they outgrow their container. If the soil is soggy or if your plant develops other problems, then definitely re-pot your Lithops.
How to Propagate Lithops
Propagate Lithops though division or from seeds. Keep in mind, these aren’t like other typical succulents that propagate freely. Lithops are slow-growing plants, so divisions can take several years. A more popular way is to grow Lithops from seeds. However, this can still take several months to establish. And, years to fully grow.
Propagate Lithops through Seeds
Sprinkle Lithops seeds on well draining soil in summer. Cover seeds with a thin fine layer of sand and keep slightly moist. Water the tiny seeds gently and be careful not to displace them. Place the container in a warm sunny spot, keeping them moist but not soggy. Once germination occurs, you can gradually reduce watering. The first seeds should germinate in a few weeks.
After seedlings are developing rapidly, reduce watering so that the top quarter inch of the soil dries out. Excessive watering is not suggested. When the plants are 2-3 months old, start letting them dry out completely for a few days between waterings, and gradually increase the length of the drying time. The young plants can be transplanted when they are about a year old.
Propagate Lithops through Division
Lithops can also be propagated by dividing a multi-headed plant. Lift the plant and carefully cut through the roots. Make sure that each leaf will have a sufficient amount of taproot attached. Replant them immediately in a pot that is deep enough for the taproot to grow without having to coil around the pot. This method should only be performed when there is a visible division on the plant itself.
Most Lithops need to be about 3 years old before they flower. During late summer to late fall, daisy-like yellow, pale orange or white flowers with many petals are produced. Flowers open in the afternoon on sunny days and close again in the late afternoon. The flowers emerge from the fissure between the leaves. Some flowers are scented depending on the variety. Sizes range in size from ½” to 1.5” (1.27-3.8 cm).
After their flowers fade, they begin growing a new plant beneath the outer leaves, but you can’t see it yet. The plant goes into a period of dormancy. During this time at least one new body develops. In the spring the plants start to reabsorb the old leaves as the new ones develop. Eventually the new body pushes out from the fissure between the old leaves. Old leaves wither away to a dry, papery sheath on the side of the new body. Many plants will also divide at this time, to produce more than one leaf pair so that a single body gradually becomes a small cluster.
Lithops is both singular and plural. The name Lithops is derived from the Ancient Greek word “líthos” meaning “stone”. And the word “óps”, meaning “face”. This of course is referring to the stone-like appearance of the plants. They avoid being eaten in the wild, by blending in with surrounding rocks. Difficult to spot, even for those with years of experience and a trained Lithops eye.
The first Lithops was discovered in 1811 by William John Burchell during a botanical expedition to South Africa. At first Burchell thought it was a strange-looking stone. With a fissure across the surface, the “stone” actually turned out to be a succulent plant.
Lithops are known by a few names by local Afrikaans for their resemblance to miniature hoofprints. Beeskloutjie meaning “cattle hoof”, skaappootjie meaning “sheep hoof” or perdeklou meaning “horse’s hoof”.
Where to buy Lithops
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