Native to the drier, western parts of Southern Africa, Lithops species are some of the most unusual succulents. They can withstand extreme heat and even temperatures as low as -5° Celsius, plus, they blend into their habitat by means of clever mimicry. You see, they have very fleshy leaves with a rock-like texture and this makes them quite difficult to spot in the wild. They are widely distributed and you will find these gems everywhere from open patches in grasslands to stony slopes.
But as hardy as they are - give them too much water, and they will drown. So, the ideal spot for these living stones is a space where you can control how much water your Lithops plants receive.
Love them but leave them alone
Lithops plants thrive on neglect. During summer and the beginning of autumn, you can water your Lithops plants once a week - but this is only if you are growing in a medium that drains well. Skip the watering in winter (unless they seem to be shrivelling excessively, in which case you want to give them a light spray of water once a month).
To support healthy root development, a relatively fine substrate mixture is best. And good soil drainage cannot be stressed enough: You literally want to see the water run through the medium as fast as possible. If your growing medium is escaping through the holes in the pot, then you are well on your way to a suitable soil for growing these mesmerising mesembs.
Get the light right
It is also wise to be wary of too much sun because if you look at these little living rocks in their natural habitat, you will notice they actually derive shade from neighbouring rocks and other plants. However, succulents are absolutely magical, so it is always possible to acclimatise Lithops plants to direct sunlight.
A lack of sun will cause etiolation; this is when your Lithops plant gets “leggy” (shoots up in height) and grows taller and slender with pale-yellow new growth. But get it right, and your Lithops plant can live for up to 50 years.
For the seeds to germinate, they need a bit of moisture because the Lithops seed capsules are hydrochastic and will only open when they become wet. Find a way to lock in some humidity during the germination phase. This can be achieved by covering the pot or pots with clear sheets of plastic or glass. (Think something even as simple as plastic cling-wrap.)
The seeds are very fine and can be placed on top of the substrate. Prevent feasible seedlings from drying out by keeping the soil material moist. Take care with your watering equipment. You want to steer clear of a vigorous watering stream that will wash away your lovely, little Lithops seeds. So, a good idea is to water the soil before adding your seeds.
Seeds germinate rather quickly, and as seedlings mature, watering should ideally be reduced to the point where the soil can dry out for a couple of days. Within a year, you will have seedlings that are ready to transplant. Take care not to transplant them too soon, as this can stun the seedlings' growth.
More about these living stones
In the wild, you can expect Lithops babies between March and May, but growers have had success sowing seeds year-round. Grow these dwarf succulents in containers that are at least 5 cm deep and if possible, sterilise your substrate.
Usually, they have two thick fleshy semi-translucent leaves resembling stones, but in very rare instances, the new bodies become distorted in shape, producing a trilobed specimen. Sometimes this condition will last only for a season, and in other instances, it continues for several years.
When you see the new body emerging through the dry or drying skin - hold off on the watering until the old skin completely dries up. Lithops plants will produce beautiful yellow or white flowers, however, it can take time for a living stone to get old enough to flower.
About the Author
Gerda le Roux is a freelance copywriter with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She likes to think of herself as a budding botanist and her love for plants is contagious.