How to Grow and Care For Lithops
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Succulent houseplants have become increasingly popular in the last decade due to their unique forms and low maintenance requirements. Lithops, a.k.a. living stones are particularly interesting succulents given their pebble-like leaves and beautiful fall flowers. They need plenty of indirect light and very little water, making them perfect for beginners.
These plants are native to southern Africa, where they are sometimes eaten as a thirst-quenching snack. As a source of moisture in the often bone-dry deserts where they grow, Lithops evolved to resemble rocks to avoid being eaten by animals.
In this post, we will explain what Lithops are, describe a few varieties, tell you how to care for them, and how to avoid common diseases.
What are Lithops?
Lithops are succulent plants in the family Aizoaceae which is known as the ice plant family. This genus of plants is native to southern Africa in areas with arid climates and desert conditions. These plants are commonly known as flowering stones, living stones, living rocks, and pebble plants due to the unique appearance of their leaves which resemble stones. They are mesembs in the subfamily Mesembryanthemoideae which are commonly called mimicry succulents.
Lithops plants have a pair of leaves that look like 2 rocks side by side. Each year in the fall, a daisy-like yellow or white flower emerges from between the leaves. The Lithops flower is accompanied by two new leaves which will take the place of the old leaves over the course of winter.
There are 37 known species and more than 145 varieties of Lithops succulents. Some species like Lithops francisci are endemic to specific areas of Namibia while others are fairly common throughout South Africa. They come in a variety of colors and patterns which you can combine to create an interesting accent for any room.
Growing Lithops is easy for beginners since they don’t require much special care. These houseplants do well in normal indoor temperatures or humidity levels. As long as they get watered at the correct time and have plenty of bright light, they’ll do well. While you can grow them in a terrarium, too much humidity can cause the same symptoms as overwatering.
A great companion plant for Lithops is split rock succulents in the genus Pleiospilos which have the same growth requirements. Pleiospilos nelii Royal Flush is a stunning plant that will add a little more height and color to a flower pot containing Lithops.
Reference: Loots, S. (2019). Habitat characteristics, genetic diversity and conservation concerns for the genus Lithops in Namibia.
Are Lithops edible?
Yes, Lithops are edible. They are often eaten in their native range of Africa as a thirst quencher due to their high moisture content.
Types of Lithops
Lithops fulviceps: Grows to just over 4 inches wide and 1.5 inches tall with two fleshy leaves that can be grayish-brown, reddish-brown, or yellowish-brown and have small areas or greenish or pinkish coloration. It has raised dots on the leaves and produces a yellow flower.
Lithops hookeri: About 1.5 inches across and about two inches tall, with two fleshy leaves that can be a variety of colors including gray, brown, red, pink, or orange. They produce a yellow flower between the two leaves in the fall.
Lithops karasmontana: Grows to two inches tall and has two grayish leaves with red mottling on top. It produces a white flower between the leaves in the fall.
Lithops salicola: Grows just over 1 inch tall with 2 gray leaves with patterned gray-green tops. Produces a white flower in the fall.
Lithops aucampiae: Grows up to 2 inches tall with brown-red leaves with intricate brown designs on top. Produces a large yellow flower between the leaves.
Lithops Plant Care Guide
Window Locations (Ideal)
USDA Hardiness Zones
Where to Buy
How to Care For Lithops
Living stone plants are great succulents for beginners. If you put them in well-draining soil and make sure they get enough sunlight, they will stay pretty happy.
There are a few specific things to keep in mind like providing partial shade in the afternoon and when you shouldn’t water your Lithops plant. Below we’ve got all of the details you need to make sure your Lithops stays healthy and happy for years to come.
Lithops have different water requirements depending on the time of year and their growth cycle. They are dormant during the summer and should only be watered if leaves begin to shrivel. If leaves form deep wrinkles during the off-season you can give them a little water. Only add enough water to moisten the top inch of the soil surface.
You can resume watering when the growing season resumes in late summer or fall when flower buds appear between the leaves. You’ll know it’s time to resume watering when the fissure between the two leaves begins to open to allow the flower bud to emerge. Water once every two weeks at most to allow the soil to almost dry out between waterings.
Stop watering completely in the winter and spring when the new leaf buds will have emerged and the outer leaves begin to shrivel and die. Don’t resume watering until the old leaves are completely shriveled up and dry. If you water too soon, the old leaves will try to revive themselves and cause the plant to grow incorrectly.
When to water Lithops?
You should only water Lithops when the soil is almost completely dry and the leaves begin to slightly wrinkle. Don’t water during winter or when plants go dormant in late summer.
What do overwatered Lithops look like?
Leaves may become elongated, wrinkled, mushy, yellow, or even burst due to overwatering. They may even develop blister-like spots known as edema.
Lithops need sunlight to thrive and should get 4 to 6 hours of direct morning sunlight, followed by partial sunlight in the afternoon for best growth. This can be achieved by placing them in an eastern or southern-facing window in your home.
If they don’t get enough sunlight, leaves can become elongated and should be moved to an area with more light. Too much direct sunlight in the afternoon can cause leaf scorching.
🌡️ Temperature and Humidity
Lithops are native to southern Africa, growing in arid climates with less than 20 inches of rainfall per year. It’s no surprise that they don’t mind warmer temperatures and less water when grown indoors.
Their ideal temperature for optimal growth is between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, Lithops will tolerate temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Normal indoor humidity levels are perfectly fine for Lithops growth. There is no need to mist them indoors.
Do Lithops like to be misted?
There is no need to mist Lithops. They are native to arid climates and prefer lower humidity levels.
🌱 Best Soil for Lithops
Since Lithops naturally grow in rocky, sandy desert soils, they should be planted in fast-draining soils. A cactus mix works great and will have the correct pH.
You can also combine potting mix, perlite, pumice, gravel, and lava rock to make your own soil. Make sure that no more than 1/5th of the mix is potting soil to keep the organic matter to a minimum.
Summer Dormancy vs Winter Lithops Care
Lithops succulents have a unique growth cycle. They are dormant during the summer because they are native to Africa which generally experiences drought in summer. During the summer dormancy, you should only water your Lithops if the leaves develop deep wrinkles.
During late summer and early fall, when rains typically return in Africa, the two leaves of the Lithops will begin to separate for the flower and new leaves to emerge. This is when you want to resume watering your plant whenever the soil is completely dry.
During winter, you should stop watering your Lithops again while the new leaves begin to mature. This may not make sense but this is part of what makes Lithops' life cycle so strange. The new leaves will draw moisture from the older leaves causing them to shrivel up and die. If you water the plant before the old leaves have completely dried out, the old leaves will start to grow again and mess with the growth cycle of the entire plant.
Resist the urge to begin watering again until the old leaves are completely dried out. Then you can resume watering when the soil is dried out until summer dormancy begins again.
In general, Lithops don’t require fertilizer to grow well. However, you can give them a small amount of fertilizer in spring to encourage them to produce their yellow or white flowers. Use a heavily diluted fertilizer for cactus plants which should be high in potassium and low in nitrogen. Don’t allow any fertilizer to contact the leaves or they may be damaged.
Not only will this small dose of fertilizer increase the chances of your Lithops flowering, but it will also benefit the new pair of leaves that will emerge right after flowering.
Lithops are safe and non-toxic to humans, cats, or dogs. In its native range, it is even consumed as a thirst-quenching treat.
How to Grow Lithops From Seed
Propagating Lithops from seed is the most popular propagation method. You can purchase Lithops seeds online.
- Prepare a pot with fast-draining soil such as a cactus mix.
- Sprinkle the seeds evenly across the surface of the soil.
- Lightly cover the seeds with a thin layer of sand.
- Keep the top layer of sand moist using a spray bottle until the seeds germinate. Then slowly reduce the amount of water you provide as the plants grow.
- Keep new plants in bright, indirect sunlight until germination occurs to prevent the top layer of soil from drying out too quickly.
- It will take many months for your Lithops to mature from seed.
How to Propagate Lithops By Division
Propagating Lithops by division should only be done when plants are mature and have multiple sets of leaves indicating where plants can be separated.
- Carefully remove your Lithops from the pot and gently brush away soil from the roots.
- Decide where to divide the plant based on where the natural separations occur and ensure each half will have sufficient taproots remaining.
- Use a pair of sharp, thin pruners to separate the plant.
- Replant each plant in a new pot with the same type of potting soil and water them.
How to Repot Lithops
Lithops shouldn’t need to be reported often, and should only be reported if there is a suspected root rot issue or they outgrow their container. Never repot Lithops if they are younger than two years or have been repotted in the last two years. If you need to repot your Lithops, follow these steps.
- Step 1: Gently remove your Lithops from the soil by gently tilting the pot and removing the soil around the base of the plant to loosen it. The taproot is generally only a few inches deep into the soil.
- Step 2: Fill a new pot with fresh, fast-draining soil like a cactus mix.
- Step 3: Poke a hole into the new soil with your finger. You want to create just enough space for the taproot not to be curled and for the soil to come to the same height on the leaves as it previously did.
- Step 4: Place the plant into the hole ensuring that the taproot remains straight.
- Step 5: Gently fill in any remaining space with soil and lightly water. Add more soil if it settles during the watering process.
- Step 6: Do not water again until the soil is completely dry.
Reference: Arthur, C., & Wagner, D. R. (2010). Lithops from Seed to Scanner Bed. Cactus and Succulent Journal, 82(1), 10-15.
Common Lithops Disease
If this is your first time experiencing root rot, read our full guide on root rot.
Root rot is a common issue with most houseplants including Lithops. It’s usually caused by moist or waterlogged soil for prolonged periods of time. Symptoms can include rapidly yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and a rotten brown base. Lithops will become shriveled, yellow, and squishy. If you’re seeing these symptoms, here’s how to treat root rot.
- Remove the plant from the pot and gently remove the soil so you can see the root system.
- If the roots are brown and mushy, you must take action immediately.
- Clean off the roots with sterile water.
- Take sterilized scissors and trim any mushy roots.
- You can use a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to disinfect the roots.
- Once cleaned up, repot your plant in fresh fast-draining cactus soil mix.
Why are my Lithops soft and squishy?
Lithops leaves will become soft and squishy when new leaves emerge and the old leaves begin to die. If you don’t have new leaves emerging, soft squishy leaves could be a sign of overwatering and root rot.
Why do my Lithops have white spots on them?
There are many causes of white spots on Lithops including damage from certain insects but is most often caused by powdery mildew. Treat powdery mildew with a fungicide with sulfur or neem oil for best results.
📚 Lithops Care Tips
- Provide direct morning sunlight for 4 to 6 hours and partial sun in the afternoon. Bright, indirect light all day works well too.
- Use fast-draining soils with Lithops to avoid overwatering and root rot issues.
- Don’t water your Lithops in winter or during summer dormancy.
- Make sure you don’t repot Lithops plants more than once every two years.
Reference: Cole, D. T. (1973). Lithops from seeds. Veld & Flora, 59(1), 35.
Where to buy Lithops?
Lithops are wonderful additions to any succulent collection and are pretty easy to care for once you know the basics. Of course, starting with a healthy plant will make caring for your new Lithops that much easier.
That’s why Enter Neverland partners with only the best vendors in the country to provide you with high quality to ensure your plant growing journey is successful. We update our inventory daily and have fast shipping times!
Visit Neverland blog today for more tips and useful resources. Plants bring a lot of joy, so we strive to help you have the best plant-growing experience possible!
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