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Lithops (Living Stones)

Popularly called “Living Stones”, Lithops are some of the world’s most fascinating plants! Since their discovery by John Burchell in 1811 when “on picking up from the stony ground what was supposed a curiously shaped pebble, it later proved to be a plant”, Lithops have been avidly sought by the collector of succulent plants. Resembling the pebbles and stones among which they grow in their African habitat, they have become favorites of the collector of strange and unusual plants. Their subtle colors of gray, brown, rust, green and pink, combined with their fantastically intricate markings, make them most desirable additions to any plant collection.

Several areas in which these plants grow receive less than 2 inches of rainfall per month throughout the entire year. In an extreme situation of low rainfall, at least one species of Lithops depends on mist or fog to provide its main source of moisture. Lithops could not survive in many areas that they are found were it not for their capacity to store water. In fact, almost the entire plant is devoted to this function. The “body” of the plant is divided into two succulent leaves fused together in the shape of an inverted cone. The fissure or slit at the top of the plant is the division of the two leaves. There is no stem as such, but rather the taproot joins abruptly at the base of the leaves. The structure of the plant reveals to the imagination the harsh environment in which Lithops live: the scarcity of water demands that young plants limited to only two leaves and a root system, as more extravagant growth would only serve to wastewater. The leaves are thick to store enough water for the plants to survive for months without rain. The plants are small and keep a low profile to minimize the effect of the intense heat and light of their climate.

Being these are small plants, a large collection can be grown on a patio table, a sunny windowsill, a shelf in the greenhouse, or under lights, as many apartment dwellers are now doing.

Lithops are also known as pebble plants, mimicry plants, flowering stones, and of course, living stones are all descriptive monikers for a plant that has a unique form and growth habit.

After flowering in the fall and extending through winter, when the new ‘bodies’ are forming within the old leaves, the latter become soft and flaccid and begin to shrivel. Some may split into the sides from the pressure of the new body inside, and often there will be dry or ‘dead’ spots on the old leaves at this stage. This is perfectly normal. Eventually, the old leaves dry up, leaving the plant with a perfect set of new ones.

Lithops thrive in compacted, sandy soil with little water and blistering hot temperatures. While relatively easy to grow, a little information on lithops will help you learn how to grow living stone plants so that they thrive in your home.

Lithops should be allowed to go drier in the winter when the new growth is drawing moisture from the old leaves. At this time, water very lightly, just enough to keep the root hairs alive. Some people say it is easiest to judge if you water as though you are trying to get the dust off the leaves. As the old leaves dry up in the spring, give them more water until the long, hot summer days bring the growing period to a standstill. At this time water lightly as stated above, act like you are getting the dust off the leaves.

Lithops do well indoors if they receive about 4 or 5 hours of direct (or only slightly filtered) sunlight during the early part of the day, and partial shade during the afternoon. Usually, a southern window is the best location, unless it exposes the plants to full sunlight most of the day, which should be prevented. An unobstructed eastern exposure is a good alternative.

If the plant does not receive a certain amount of direct sunlight for a few hours a day (when the weather permits, of course), they begin to grow slender and elongated, leaning to one side to receive more light. They also lose coloration and the sides of the plants turn greenish. They will eventually die if better lighting is not given them when these signs become evident. In some situations, however, it is advisable to shade the plants a little from intense sunlight in the spring to prevent sunburn, especially in areas that experience poor light during most of the winter. This is because the plants lose resistance to bright light during a prolonged period of overcast weather, and the sudden brightness of a clear day will cause them to become burned, causing a whitish scar tissue to form on the surface of the plant. A badly burned plant may be so severely injured that it may die. This is why you should expose the plants to bright light gradually over a period of several days if they have been in dim light for some time. This is especially true of newly purchased plants.

REMEMBER, you never want the soil to become bone dry. (The root hairs will all die back and when you resume watering there will be no root hairs to begin using the moisture. ) As flower buds appear in late summer and fall, another watering period begins. Tapering off during winter after flowering has ended. Those growing plants under lights will probably need to water a bit more during the winter when the plants show signs of shriveling. No one can tell you exactly how much water your plants need, you must watch them and learn their growing cycle.

Propagation is through division or seed, although seed grown plants take many months to establish and years before they resemble the parent plant. You can find both seeds and starts on the Internet or at succulent nurseries. Adult plants are common at even big box nurseries.

Lithops care is easy as long as you remember what type of climate the plant originates from and mimic those growing conditions. Be very careful, when growing living stones, not to overwater. These little succulents do not need to be watered in their dormant season, which is fall to spring. If you wish to encourage flowering, add a diluted cactus fertilizer in spring when you commence watering again. Lithops plants do not have many pest problems, but they may get scale, moisture gnats and several fungal diseases. Watch for signs of discoloration and evaluate your plant often for immediate treatment.

 Old-hand gardeners know for best success indoor cactus and succulent plants require a certain amount of neglect.

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Read more at Gardening Know How: Lithops Succulent: How To Grow Living Stone Plants https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/lithop/growing-living-stone-plants.htm

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