The dessert is a harsh unforgiving place, and though it may seem like nothing lives in these desolate places, there are many plants and animals who call the desert home. The reason these plants and animals are able to live in such difficult environments is because they have learned to adapt. This is very difficult for plants which cannot run away when animals come to eat their tender juicy leaves, and need water to grow. So how are plants able to survive in these places? Some plants are able to survive by developing sharp spines like the cacti, and many plants can go without water for long periods of time. One particular plant is able to survive in the desert by disguising itself as a pebble, which animals pass right over without giving a second glance to.
These plants are called Lithops, and are a type of succulent plant found in Southern Africa. The name comes from the Greek words (lithos) meaning “stone”, and (ops) which means “face”. These plants are commonly known as pebble plants or living stones and look nothing like the traditional green plants we are familiar with, but instead look like stones in varying shades of cream, grey, and brown.
Lithops plants have one or more pair of succulent almost fused leaves which grow opposite to each other and have almost no stem. A split between the two leaves produces a white or yellow flower, which blooms in autumn for most species. The leaves are partially buried, and the top of the leaves are somewhat translucent and are known as leaf windows, which allow light to enter the interior of the leaves for photosynthesis.
Growing living stones
Lithops plants are very efficient at storing water and using it only when needed, so they can go without water for months at a time. This makes them the perfect plant for those who tend to forget to water their plants, and it can actually be harmful if the plants are watered too much. These plants are relatively easy to grow as long as they are given enough sun-light, well-drained soil, and proper water management.
Normal care for mild temperate climates is to keep Lithops completely dry during the winter months, and only begin watering once the new leaves have emerged in the spring and the old leaves have dried. During the summer months watering should be light and infrequent and only enough to prevent the leaves from shriveling. During the fall, water every two to three weeks with regular tap water or distilled water, either one is fine, making sure to water thoroughly but less often than a regular succulent. It is important not to over water your plants, as they will take up whatever water is in the soil and if there is too much the leaves will burst.
Give you plants as much sun as possible, a bright window sill will work fine, but you may get better results with a greenhouse if one is available.
Lithops thrive best in course well-drained soil. If the soil retains too much water the plants are likely to burst or develop rot. A recommended soil mix is 40% peat and 60% perlite which will provide excellent drainage.
Split rock plant
Another plant that looks very similar to Lithops are from the genus Pleiospilos and are commonly known as split rock or mimicry plant. This plant looks very similar to living stones, but requires slightly different care, so make sure to check so as not get the two mixed up. Split rock plants are bigger and usually have multiple sets of leaves, whereas living stones only have one set of leaves.