Living Stones

Living stones are a genus of plants that is well-adapted to dry climates and grasslands or rocky terrain. This houseplant does, in fact, look very much like a living stone. Formally known as lithops, the name means “stone face” in Greek, and this houseplant does, in fact, look very much like small stones. This is the perfect houseplant for someone who already has a robust collection of plants and is interested in something a little different. It doesn’t hurt that living stones are also easy-care houseplants that thrive on neglect.

Like air plants or orchids, there are actually numerous species of lithops in the genus. The exact taxonomy is an area of study among botanists with current estimates suggesting that there are about 40-50 species and about 150 different cultivars. However, most all these species of houseplants have a similar appearance and care guidelines.

Plant Overview

Lithops (genus)

Indoor Size and Growth Habits: Miniature plants with leaf pairs that are usually less than an inch wide when grown indoors. Extremely slow growing.

Light Requirements: 4 (3-5)

Water Frequency & Soil Moisture: 1

Potting Mix, Fertilizer & pH: Needs a fast-draining succulent potting soil. No fertilizer is needed, accustomed to low-nutrient soil with a wide pH range of 5.0-8.0+.

Humidity & Temperature: Prefers low humidity and struggles in high-humidity greenhouse conditions. Prefers moderate temperatures between 65-80 degrees. Can tolerate temperatures as low as 50 degrees.

Toxicity Level: Non-Toxic

Cost: $$-$$$

Placement: Light, Size, and Décor

Living stones like lots of light, but they don’t necessarily have to be placed directly in a south- or -west facing window. Even in ideal conditions, these houseplants grow incredibly slowly and never reach a large size but instead split into leaf pairs as part of their growth cycle.

The individual plants are the size of small pebbles, but when it comes to decorating, the more important question is how many living stones you want to invest in. People who are unfamiliar with living stones may not recognize them as plants at all. Small groups of living stones are more likely to blend in with the rest of your décor and be your secret little corner of unique houseplants. Large groups of living stones are visually dynamic and a source of curiosity among house guests or office visitors. Wondering why they look like stones? Botanists believe the look is camouflage in rocky terrain to avoid being eaten.

Care: Water, Potting, and Soil

Lithops is native to southern Africa but has been found at sea levels and in the mountains, in both hot and cold climates. The one thing that all living stones like is a dry climate. They thrive on neglect and are very vulnerable to root rot. Rarely will these plants want water more than once a month, and once every other month isn’t unusual. Some plants are even able to absorb the water they need through their leaves and moisture in the air.

Like other succulents, wait for the leaves to wrinkle and shrink back before giving water. You can still give the soil a generous amount of water when the time comes, but be sure to use a fast-draining potting soil mix to help prevent root rot.

Acidic vs alkaline soil is one of the few things that differentiate species of lithops as houseplants. These horticulture researchers found that individual species of lithops may prefer soil as acidic as 4.9 or as alkaline as 10. However, the large majority of species showed a wide tolerance for soil pH between 5.0-8.0. So long as you get fast-draining soil, the living stone should be a happy one.

Pests and Other Problems

Even more so than other houseplants, living stones hardly ever have problems with pests. Scale, spider mites, and moisture gnats are among the few threats. Fungal growth is one concern, especially if you live in a climate with higher humidity levels. While their appearance may be effective camouflage for some animals, mice are another nuisance if they get into your home.

If your living stones look like they’re trying to grow tall, that’s not a good sign. It means the plant is reaching for more light and expending energy to do so. Move the plant to a sunnier spot or add indoor grow lights. These plants are non-toxic to pets and people.

Cost and Availability

Depending on how they’re priced, living stones can be cheap. The problem is while the average cost of a single plant is $2-$5, you will probably want to buy at least a handful if not a dozen or more plants to create a substantive arrangement in even a modest sized pot.

Propagation and Repotting

Unlike houseplants that are easy to propagate through cuttings, living stones are most commonly grown from seed. With mature plants that have split into leaf pairs, plant division is also possible. Many people also have questions about how to plant living stones they receive in the mail. Learn more about the step-by-step instructions for potting and propagating these plants.


Similar Types of Houseplants

There are few houseplants that are truly similar to living stones, but at the same time, there are plenty of succulents and miniature-sized houseplants that can serve similar roles in your decorating and houseplant collection. Smaller varieties of cactus are a great place to start. Air plants and baby toes are also great examples.