Gardening should be fun, and sometimes it’s all about the joy of experiencing the variety that the plant world provides us. Living stones are funky-looking plants that look like pebbles that give you the pleasure of growing something different and unique.
When so much of our gardening activity is about landscapes, providing food for our families, or hard work in the elements, living stones allow us to sit back and enjoy nature on a tiny scale that doesn’t involve physical labor.
Let’s start talking about the coolest little plants you may ever see.
What Are Living Stones?
Living stones (Lithops spp.) are native to Africa and are sometimes called pebble stones. They are little succulents that look like the stony ground where they traditionally grow.
They survive the harsh African environment with their ability to store water in the twin leaves that make up the top of the plant. These two succulent leaves are fused together with a clear fissure dividing them.
Living stones have no stem. The taproot connects directly to the leaves, and the whole plant above the surface is usually a maximum of 1 inch high. Many varieties only grow flush with the soil surface, and the rest of the plant is subterranean.
There are around 37 species and about 145 varieties. They differ in shape, texture, and color.
Best Living Stone Varieties
There are plenty of living stone species to choose from. Below is a small list of my favorites, but there are so many different varieties; choose those you find the most appealing.
This species has the look and texture of marble. It really camouflages well into its environment. It is grey or tan colored with spots on the leaves.
The flowers are a bright yellow, and this variety can withstand slightly colder temperatures compared to other living stones.
Ruschiorum is sometimes known as bushman’s buttock due to its appearance.
It’s best not to over-water living stones, but aucampie can withstand it better than most other species.
Aucampie is red or brown with flowers of varying yellow shades. It will grow in clusters of up to 12, but you will usually see clusters of two to five.
The fissure is quite wide on aucampie to allow sunlight to penetrate the plant below the surface.
Originally from Botswana, lesliei only grows a few millimeters above the ground surface. They can be red, green, or dark tan. The flowers are yellow or white.
As the name suggests, this is a warty-looking variety but is actually pretty cool. Growing around an inch tall and less than an inch wide, verruculosa is a good choice if you really neglect your potted plants. It will survive even in the poorest of environments.
Pink-grey leaves have brown markings that can grow one plant or grow with up to 15 other bodies. The coloring allows them to blend into the natural clay-like environment.
This species is good if you have a rocky environment and are planting outside. It’s reasonably cold-tolerant compared to some other cultivars.
This gray-to-green variety can withstand drought even better than many other varieties, and this makes it a good choice for people who forget to water their houseplants. Flowering in the fall, terricolor appreciates water in the summer, with a reduction in all other seasons.
Propagating Living Stones
Living stones are slow growing, so the fastest way to initially start your collection is to buy them from a supplier. However, lots of people opt to grow them by seed because it’s the easiest way to get your hands on so many different species.
You can buy seeds or take them off a fertilized plant. Living stones are self-infertile, so you’ll have to hand pollinate them or find ones outside that have been visited by pollinators.
Once the flowers that bloom in fall fade, they will turn into seed pods. Just make sure the flower has died back completely before harvesting.
- Trim the seed pod from the plant’s body with sharp, precise scissors. It will be closed.
- In their natural environment, rain causes the seed pod to open, and the raindrops cause splashes big enough to disperse the seeds nearby. Recreate this by allowing a few drops of water to land on the pod using a dropper. This should make the pod open.
- Scrape the seeds out of the pod using a toothpick or similar.
- In a container, add cactus soil and spray to moisten.
- Sprinkle a few seeds onto the surface, and then add a thin layer of cactus mix.
- Keep the soil moist, but you don’t want to see little surface puddles.
- When the seeds germinate and sprout, water less often.
Like most succulents, living stones multiply on their own. You can get more individual plants by dividing them manually. Make sure you do this in the spring when the plants are actively growing.
- Fill new containers with cactus soil mix. The taproots can be up to six inches long, so choose a container to accommodate that.
- Remove the living stone cluster from its container. Separate the plants very carefully, making sure not to damage the roots. The tops pull apart well. You will need to use a sharp knife or scissors to separate the taproots.
- Inspect the plants to make sure they have a healthy, intact taproot.
- Replant the separated plants in the new containers. Use one per container or add a couple in.
Living stones are very slow growing, so repotting is not frequent. Make sure the container drains well. Unglazed clay pots are ideal.
How to Care For Living Stones
Due to the reasonably specific requirements for living stones to thrive, it’s best to grow them inside on a sunny windowsill. You can grow them outside in USDA Growing Zones 10 to 11. Growing living stones in a glass house if you have one is a bonus if you have one.
Use potting soil suitable for cacti. There are some good quality ones you can purchase. If planting outside, aim for a soil pH of around 7.0. The soil must be extremely well-draining; sandy or rocky is preferable.
You need to be careful when watering living stones. Water at the correct time of a specific period in the yearly growth.
Provide water from late spring into early summer. Around mid-summer, the plant goes into dormancy, so stop watering. If the plant shrivels up or looks worse for wear, give just enough water to pick it up, but no more.
Start watering again in early fall. The fissure between the two leaves will begin to spread open ready for the bloom. In winter up to spring, allow the soil to dry out completely.
Place the living stone container on a sunny windowsill where they will get at least 5 hours of direct sunlight early in the day.
Fertilizing and Pruning Living Stones
Don’t fertilize much at all. If you think the plant needs a helping hand, use a low-nitrogen fertilizer higher in potassium no more than once a year.
In the growing season, new leaves appear, and the old ones shrivel up. Remove the dead ones as needed. The new leaves push up through the fissure.
Best Companion Plants for Growing Living Stones
Living stones often look best on their own, but if you feel the need to plant with other things, try:
- Other succulents
Problems and Solutions for Growing Living Stones
While these plants don’t really suffer from pests and diseases too often, there are some growing issues to watch for with living stones. Just remember that overwatering is the most common cause of problems.
Leaves Are Mushy
This is usually due to over-watering or watering in the dormant period. Living stones will develop root rot very easily. Make sure you keep the soil moist, but not wet.
Also, try misting the soil as a way of watering to keep the actual plant as dry as possible.
Leaves Are Wrinkled or Shriveling Up
If you don’t give living stones enough water in their growing period, the leaves will tell you by shriveling up. They store water in their leaves for the dormant period, so it’s a clear sign of an insufficient amount.
Too little sunlight normally results in fading or discoloration of the leaves. Often this is accompanied by the leaves becoming elongated as they try to angle toward the sun.
Provide more sunlight in the early part of the day, and consider moving the container if it needs more sun time.
Slugs and Snails
Living stones planted outside are attractive to slugs and snails. Use your favorite method to get rid of them. I use slug and snail bait.
Spider mites share a love of sunny, warm spots just like living stones. You may see webbing on the plant and surrounding soil or pitted damaged leaves.
You could use insecticidal soap, but this may be too harsh for the living stone. Try a gentler homemade solution. Mix one teaspoon of mild liquid soap with one liter of tepid water.
Spray the plant, but consider moving it away from other indoor plants to stop the mites from resettling on them.
Mice find living stones quite appealing. If you notice chew marks that are way too big to be an insect, it’s likely a mouse. They will enter your house and dine on your lithops, especially in times of excess heat or drought outside.
Set traps and be proactive in keeping mice out of your homestead.