Lithops: Tiny Treasures of the Plant World

Lithops — a type of succulent plant commonly known as a ‘living stone plant’ for its rock-like appearance — are easy to take care of and grow.

| Spring 2016

Lithops are the enchanting little plants that have fascinated me for more than 3 years in more ways than one. Because of their rock-like appearance, they are often commonly confused with stones at first glance, and the only time you can really tell that they are a plant is when the lithop flowers are in bloom with their white, yellow, or rarely, pink petals. These little plants originate from South Africa where they mimic rocks for protection and camouflage.

Lithops have two very fat, specialized leaves fused together to create the head of the plant, one roundish structure with a crease in the middle. As years go by and the plant matures, lithops obtain more of these heads.

The lithops thrive in rocky, gravelly, dry areas in Namibia and South Africa. They bloom every fall if they are healthy. Doug Dawson, a retired mathematician who travels to Africa each year to study lithops and other succulents, tells us that there are many different cultivars and varieties which growers and enthusiasts enjoy cross-pollinating to enhance desirable characteristics. This is also one of Dawson’s favorite pastimes.

“In China, lithops are experiencing a boom because the middle class loves them and has enough time for hobbies. The population of the middle class in China is as big as all of the population in the U.S, and a growing number of Chinese are now enjoying lithops. It has really become a popular plant because space is often an issue,” Dawson noted as he talked about the increase in lithops popularity.

They can be grown as patio plants and then brought inside when temperatures drop. Steven Hammer, author of Lithops: Treasures of the Veld, explained that lithops will often be found by roadways in their native habitat, away from other plants. But any sunny windowsill can support many lithops plants.

“Lithops are not poisonous to humans or animals,” Hammer said. He ate one and said that “It tasted like a green pepper!”

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