Colorful South African Succulents Have Evolved To Look Like Real Stones

Living Stone Succulents in a Pot

Photo: zenung/Depositphotos
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If you love unusual plants and are looking to add to your garden, you may want to consider a lithops. This genus of succulents is native to southern Africa and the plants are quite a sight to behold. Nicknamed living stones, they do actually look like smooth pebbles. Really, these succulents look so much like stones, that you may be tempted to pick one up and skip it across a body of water.

Lithops owe its unique appearance to the fact that it has almost no stem. What we mainly see are the bulbous fused leaves that poke out from the soil. These leaves have a slit between them, which allows space for flowers to bloom and for new leaves to appear. The majority of the plant's leaves are actually down in the soil and the plant has a small, translucent window that allows light to penetrate and access these leaves for photosynthesis. Once a year, in the winter, the leaves above the surface will part and new ones will appear from the slit. The old leaves wither and die back, making way for new growth.

If that wasn't incredible enough, these living stones are also known for their variety of colors and patterns. Ranging from light grey to deep red or green, these succulents often have a mottled or striped appearance. These adaptations allow the plant to blend into its surroundings, as a sort of camouflage among actual pebbles.

In nature, lithops is most commonly found in Namibia and South Africa. It has also become a popular houseplant. With nearly 150 different varieties, there are many types to choose from. And, the good news is that they are relatively easy to care for. As long as they are given bright—but not direct—sunlight and are planted in well-drained soil, they should thrive. They really only need to be watered once every two weeks, as they store a good amount of water, so they're also perfect for people who don't have a green thumb.

Lithops plants can be cultivated through propagation or seeds. Seeds will take a bit longer to germinate but are a good option if you are purchasing online. On Etsy, there are many reputable sellers such as EEGCO and The Cactus Kingdom who ship mixed bags of seeds. With a little patience and care, you'll have your own living stones in no time.

Lithops is a genus of succulents native to southern Africa.

Lithops (Living stone), Cactus on flower pot

Photo: firefox/Depositphotos

They are nicknamed “living stones” thanks to their resemblance to pebbles.

Close Up View of Young Lithops Living Stone Succulents

Photo: lobster20/Depositphotos

Each year, their bulbous leaves split and die back to allow a new fused pair of leaves to appear.

Living Stone Lithops Growing New Leaves

Photo: ChWeiss/Depositphotos

They also bloom white or yellow flowers.

Flowering Lithops Living Stone Succulent Plant

Photo: Maxmaxmaxmax85/Depositphotos

Their unusual appearance and easy care make them popular houseplants.

Top view of colorful and unique lithops

Photo: Wirestock/Depositphotos

Many vendors sell lithops seeds online so you can grow your own living stones.

Close Up View of Young Lithops Living Stone Succulents

Photo: Wirestock/Depositphotos

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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