Living stones (Lithops spp.), also known as pebble plants, are unusual little succulents that have evolved to look like the pebbles and rocks that litter their native habitats in Africa. These plants hug the ground and grow extremely slowly. They’re best planted in the spring or fall, as the plants enter a dormant state and aren’t actively growing during the hot summer months and the winter months. The plants within this genus generally consist of a pair of thick leaves with little if any stem above the soil. Beneath the soil is the stem and fairly long roots. A new set of leaves appears in the spring, and the old leaves dry up and fall off. Plus, all species within this genus have daisy-like flowers, which typically emerge from between the leaves in the fall or winter.
|Botanical Name||Lithops spp.|
|Common Names||Living stones, pebble plants|
|Mature Size||0.5–2 in. tall and wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||White, yellow, orange|
|Hardiness Zones||10–11 (USDA)|
Living Stones Care
Living stones are quite interesting plants to grow, thanks to their unique appearance. They are also very low-maintenance plants. But they have some specific environmental needs that you must abide by to have success with their growth.
These plants need as much light as possible. That means if you’re growing them indoors and don’t have a bright window, you might need to invest in a supplemental artificial grow light for them. Moreover, proper watering is probably the most crucial part of living stones' care. These plants are highly tolerant to drought, and too much water can easily kill them—especially if it promotes rot or fungal growth. Fortunately, living stones aren’t prone to many diseases or pests. So they should thrive if you take a largely hands-off approach to their care. In fact, for around half of the year, you likely won't have to do anything for your plants besides monitor them to make sure they're staying healthy.
Living stones prefer full sun year-round, meaning at least six hours of sunlight on most days. When growing them indoors, place them by your brightest window, with a southern or eastern exposure being preferable. Insufficient light can cause elongated leaves and poor leaf coloring.
These plants like sandy soil with sharp drainage. A potting mix that is specially formulated for cacti is ideal for them.
Living stones must be watered on a seasonal schedule that mimics the rainfall they would get in their natural habitat. Don’t water over the winter when the plant is dormant. Then, once the new leaves begin forming in the spring, water whenever the soil dries out just enough that the soil becomes slightly moist. Pause watering again in the summer during the other dormant period. But resume watering in the fall just before the plant is ready to flower. If the leaves start to completely shrivel up while the plant is dormant, you can give it a very small amount of water to plump them up again.
Temperature and Humidity
Living stones can tolerate heat well and can survive temperatures down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They do fine in typical room temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity usually isn’t an issue as long as the soil doesn’t remain moist for long periods and there is good air flow around the plants.
These plants live naturally in poor soil and aren't heavy feeders. So fertilizer is typically not necessary.
Potting and Repotting Living Stones
Even though these plants only rise about an inch above the soil, provide them with a pot that’s around 3 to 5 inches deep. That’s because they have long taproots that stretch far down into the soil. The pot should also have ample drainage holes. An unglazed clay pot is ideal because it will allow excess water to evaporate through its walls.
You likely won’t have to repot your living stones for many years as they grow so slowly. If you have several in a pot that are becoming cramped, carefully dig up each plant you want to repot, keeping its roots intact. Then, place it in a new pot that’s slightly deeper than the length of its roots, filling around it with fresh cactus potting mix.
Living Stones Varieties
There are dozens of species and varieties of living stones, including:
- Lithops julii: This species has pinkish-gray leaves with brown markings.
- Lithops gracilidelineata: Pale gray-white leaves with brown markings look like cracks in the leaves’ surface of this varleity.
- Lithops lesliei: This succulent has barely any stem above ground and features markings of green, pink, orange, gray, and brown.
- Lithops marmorata: This plant features smooth gray-green leaves with a marbled pattern.