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Lithops: The Complete Guide

Lithops

Lithops or living stones are succulent plants that are not cacti or very interesting potting plants: they barely exceed five centimeters in height once they reach adulthood, so they can be combined with other species to create very decorative compositions.

If you have just purchased one or several, you should know that the care of Lithops is relatively simple. 

But for you too, believe me, I will tell you what they are, and so, you can make sure they will live a long time.

The first thing we have to do when we have just purchased a Lithops is to change it to a pot one or two centimeters larger, during spring or summer. 

Although they are small plants, it should be borne in mind that they may have been in that same container for months, so there will be very few nutrients available.

As a substrate, it is highly recommended to simply use a picex or clean river sand, since it needs to have very good drainage to avoid rotting your root system. 

If you did not find it, you could mix black peat with perlite in equal parts.

After the transplant, we can put decorative stones on the surface; This will look like it is in habitat.

Tips to take care of the Lithops 

Illumination

This group of plants perfectly tolerates the cultivation in the shade of the interior of the homes although the growth of the plants will be more elongated, with less pigmentation and less attractive (slight etiolation). 

It is recommended to expose them to the sun in the early morning and late afternoon because the midday will burn them without problems.

Cultivation in extremely hot seasons should be kept protected under shading meshes. 

In very hot tropical countries you have to be very careful with the sun because the heat can be intense even in the early hours of the morning; in these countries, they must be cultivated under filtered sunlight and never directly exposed to the sun.

Temperatures

Living stones have a wide range of tolerance in terms of ambient temperatures. 

There are species tolerate temperatures below -5 ° C if the substrate is completely dry. The optimum range for these plants is between 15-30 ° C. They are also very resistant to intense heat, surviving at more than 40 ° C.

Substratum

Almost completely mineral for these plants. 

They do not tolerate a high concentration of organic matter in the substrate because it retains moisture for a long time causing them to die with time due to rot.

We recommend a mixture of thick river sand, very fine gravel (or pomice), mulch of leaves and very little organic matter mixed with pieces of charcoal (less than 10% of the mixture). 

These plants require perfect drainage where it is observed that the water drains in a few seconds and that is why so much coarse sand is recommended in the substrate.

Irrigation Frequency

Irrigation in these plants is completely different from most succulents currently grown. 

The errors at the time of making the irrigation and when to do it are the main problems of the collectors that bring with them the rot of many of these plants.

To perform perfect irrigation we must fully respect the vegetative cycle of the plant where there is a period of growth (seasons where generally cool to warm temperatures predominate) and another of dormancy (cold seasons). 

Irrigation in cold seasons (latency season) is deadly for them and therefore it is recommended to completely suspend this task during these months.

In the growing season, it should be watered only when the leaves look slightly wrinkled and become soft when we press them gently. 

This way they will never rot. We recommend watering in the late afternoon because if it is irrigated when there are temperatures above 35 ° C, the roots are burned. 

The latency and growth stages can also vary depending on the weather behavior throughout the year and for this reason, many recommend watering when the plant itself signals water needs.

Humidity

Humidity always below 55% to avoid sudden rot. Never spray these plants even on the hottest days.

Plagues and diseases

They are mainly attacked by mealybugs and mites. 

They are very susceptible to numerous chemicals that are frequently used as pesticides and therefore we must be very careful when applying them. 

Some authors recommend only fumigating with pesticides that contain Imidacloprid. 

The other pathologies that can occur in these plants are 100% associated with crop errors.

Propagation

It is mainly done from seeds although very large plants can be separated as asexual breeding method. Seeds must be sown after 12 months of collection to obtain good germination.

Pruning

Living stones do not need pruning.

Toxicity

Lithops are not toxic to humans or pets. 

There are even some references to African children who eat these plants to quench their thirst.

 Even so, don’t eat them.

Roots

Any disturbance of the roots will be responsible for burns in plants that are well lit. 

This fact will indicate to us how branched the fine inferior roots are, as well as the capacity of the plant to resist heat and light.

More info

Lithops (commonly called „flowering stones“ or „living stones“) are true mimicry plants: their shape, size, and color cause them to resemble small stones in their natural surroundings. 

The plants blend in among the stones as a means of protection. Grazing animals that would otherwise eat them during periods of drought to obtain moisture usually overlook them. 

Even experts in the field sometimes have difficulty locating plants for study because of this unusual deceptive camouflage.

In the wild, Lithops inhabit vast dry regions of southern Africa. Several areas in which these plants grow receive less than 2 inches of rainfall per month throughout the entire year. 

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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.

Lithops are perennial plants which develop a new pair of leaves each year. 

The leaf markings of any one particular plant change very little from year to year, and no two plants have markings exactly alike. 

Lithops begin growing during the fall, continue throughout the winter and into the spring. In late spring or early summer, the plants will begin to go dormant.

In habitat, it is necessary for their survival to rest during the long period of intense heat and little or no rainfall, using what water they have stored previously to last the summer. 

With the approach of cooler and shorter days of the fall, Lithops will grow again.

1) During the summer months, Lithops become dormant, resting as they do in the wild, although as a houseplant the conditions are not so severe. The plants require little or no water when they are dormant. 

Regular watering during this period would almost surely cause them to suddenly rot and turn into mush. 

But if a prominent shrivelling occurs during the summer, it is safe to give just enough water to restore the firm appearance of the plant. 

Water lightly so that about only the top one-half inch or so of the soil is moistened. Never water deeply when the plants are dormant.

2) In the fall, usually in August or September, the plants will begin growing. 

The first sign of growth is noticed when the fissure between the leaves begins to separate. 

In the days to follow, a bud will force its way up through the fissure and shortly thereafter a white or yellow flower will unfold. 

The flowers of many of the Lithops species have a spicy-sweet scent. If a plant does not flower the first year, perhaps it is not quite old enough.

Lithops usually must be three to five years old before they begin flowering they have been grown as seedlings for two years or more in the nursery. 

As the fissure separates further, a new pair of leaves can be seen developing inside. As the plant becomes older, it increases in size by division. 

This will begin by one plant producing two pairs of new leaves. 

The plant will then have two “bodies” attached to one root system. Some plants in Lithops collections have as many as ten or more bodies per plant, but it takes many years to develop a plant of this size.

3) During the winter months, the plants will still be growing; the new bodies will be increasing in size as the old outer leaves begin to shrivel. 

No water at all should be given during the winter … the soil should remain bone dry no matter how shrivelled the plants become. 

The new body actually draws out the water stored in the old leaves to continue growth, so do not remove the shriveled leaves. 

Lithops should not be exposed to a temperature lower than 40°F (5°C). If the plant are too near a window during freezing weather, they will be damaged by frost even though the room seems warm, so move them back a little during really cold winter weather.

4) The new body continues to extract the water and nutrient stored in the old leaves until the old leaves are reduced to nothing more than thin papery shells. 

These shells can then be easily removed from around the plant. It is spring by the time the plants reach this stage, and it is safe to water again to let the plants increase their growth. 

Begin by watering lightly, increasing the amount of water gradually, working up to several good drenchings during mid-spring. 

Be sure to let the soil dry between waterings. Reduce watering as the heat and long days of summer approach, allowing the plants to prepare for their dormant period.

This brings the discussion of the growth cycle of Lithops full circle. 

It should be noted that this serves only as a general guide to the way that Lithops grows. 

Each species has its own timetable for completing each stage of its growth, and it is nearly impossible to alter. 

Some species bloom as early as July, others as late as November. 

Although the method of cultivation described above is suitable for all species, you may wish to vary the times of watering a little as you become experienced in recognizing the different habits of each.

Conclusion

Plants of the genus Lithops are succulent plants of small size of the Aizoaceae family. 

This group of plants are very popular in world gardening, with at least one individual of this genus found in thousands of collections. 

They are mainly attractive because of the shape of their leaves that mimic rocks, very varied colorations on the surface of their leaves and their high tolerance to droughts and low temperatures. 

Currently, there are more than 100 described species and hundreds of hybrids and cultivars that are offered in the market for lovers of collecting. 

In some places, they are known as stone cactus although they are not really cactus (these belong to the family Cactaceae). 

In this post, we want to provide you with basic cultivation tips for the maintenance of these plants in the garden.