Lithops helmutii (Living Stones)

Scientific Name

Lithops helmutii L. Bolus

Common Names

Living Stones

Scientific Classification

Family: Aizoaceae
Subfamily: Ruschioideae
Tribe: Ruschieae
Genus: Lithops


Lithops helmutii is a stemless succulent with a pair of fleshy leaves. They are up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) tall, not completely fused, translucent, very light-green, mottled more or less with pale-grey or creamy-grey. Flowers are golden yellow with a white center, diurnal, and up to 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) in diameter.


USDA hardiness zone 10a to 11b: from 30 °F (−1.1 °C) to 50 °F (+10 °C).

How to Grow and Care

Lithops develop a new set of leaves every year, with new leaves emerging in the fall and growing through the winter and into the summer. In late summer, the plant will go dormant, and water should be severely restricted to prevent bursting leaves. The flowers appear near the end of summer or fall, first showing up as a small bud forcing its way between the leaves and growth will begin again. It's safe to water during this period. In winter, the leaves will still be growing, but you should stop watering, even as the older leaves shrivel up and encase the new growth. In the spring, it's safe to begin lightly watering again as the plant begins to grow again, heading toward their summer dormancy period and the emergence of new leaves in the fall.

Lithops are very slow-growing, small plants, which makes them ideal as houseplants (once you get the hang of their watering schedule). Older plants form attractive clumps of "pebbles" in their pots, which are highly prized. In general, plants should only be repotted if there are cultural problems (soggy soil), or the plant has outgrown its dish container, which will only happen every several years. See more at How to Grow and Care for Lithops.


Lithops helmutii is native to South Africa.


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Frequently Asked Questions

These lithops are forming new leaf pairs and shedding the old ones. Source: Ezequiel Coelho

Q: What is Blue Witchford Lithops?

A: There are a number of unusually-colored plant seeds sold online (often from China), and Blue Witchford lithops is one of those. In most cases, these are fakes.

In the case of “Blue Witchford lithops”, it’s believed that the images shown online of it are heavily photoshopped, and in fact they aren’t even of a lithops plant at all – they’re images of pinguicula esseriana that have been colorized blue to sell seeds.

Unfortunately, scams like this are becoming extremely common online. Purchase your seeds from reliable seed companies, not from a random seller on eBay or Amazon. This will prevent you from being disappointed later.

Q: Are lithops poisonous?

A: There are reports of people in Namibia chewing on lithops to extract their moisture, and the ASPCA has them marked down as non-toxic to dogs or cats. So the plant itself may not be toxic.

Whether or not it tastes good may be a different matter. The flowers themselves can smell spicy-sweet, but there are few reports as to the flavor of the leaves, suggesting it’s not an ideal food source. Still, they should not be poisonous.

Any chemicals which are used on lithops may be poisonous themselves, so if you have sprayed your plant with a chemical pesticide, be cautious around your pets.

Finally, if there’s ever any concerns, it’s best to check in with your doctor or your veterinarian. Better to be safe than sorry!

Ready to grow your own pebble plants and living stones? These succulent beauties are not only long-lived, but super-easy to care for once you’ve mastered the technique! Do you have a favorite living stone plant? Share your stories in the comments below!

Lithops helmutii (Living Stones) - garden

Origin and Habitat: It is found only in a small area between Steinkopf-Arrabies Steinkopf-Kinderlê, Namaqualand Republic of South Africa.
Type Locality: North East of Steinkopf, South Africa.
Habitat: Lithops helmutii grows in the shelter of rocks in an essentially winter rainfall climate. The substrata is mainly composed by translucent white, red-stained and brownish quartzite. The outstanding characteristic of these small succulents is their highly efficient camouflage. Only the upper few mm or so of the plant usually protrudes above the soil and it is often nearly buried by the detritus accumulated about it. The fleshy leaves are can hardly be distinguished from the gravels among which the plant grows and one can search diligently in places where they are known to exist without ever finding them.

Description: Lithops helmuti is one of the few naturally occurring green Lithops species with a large semi transparent to transparent window. It has a pair of plump leaves, which are bright green marked with grey and with an oblique upper surface.
Habit: The plants are stemless, perennial succulents, with solitary or clustered bodies up to 3 cm hight, usually in clumps of 5-6 heads, but may occasionally forms large clumps with more than 26 heads. Each heads consists of a single, simple, fleshy body which is split into two parts by a deep fissure. From this cleft a single flower blooms when climatic conditions are favourable. A fresh pair of leaves grows every year almost as if a new plant emerges between the old leaves.
Bodies (paired leaves): Small to medium, facial diameters about 20-30 long 15-19 mm in width, turbinate, leaves not completely fused often bicuneate in profile, fissure deep, lobes obliquely convex, sometimes tapering to a point, soft-skinned, often wrinkled, unequal in size window conspicuous, sometime reduced by islands and marginal indentations, pale green, translucent, very light-green, mottled more or less with pale-grey, creamy-grey, sometimes only a few specks. Outer margin irregularly lobed, sometimes denticulate inner margin usually straight, plain, sometimes also denticulate.
Flowers: Golden yellow with white centre (or completely white), diurnal opening in the afternoon and closing at sunset. The flower is usually about the same dimension as the plant itself (up to 33 mm in diameter).
Blooming season: Autumn, usually in April and May in habitat. In general appearance the blossoms are very similar to the Mesembryanthemurn or ice-plant (to which they are closely related).
Fruits: Capsules mostly 5-chambered. Profile boat-shaped, top flat or convex. Face elliptic to round.
Seeds: Minuscule, light yellow-brown.
Related species: L. helmutii is somewhat similar to Lithops comptonii which has top of leaves strongly convex, characterized by large, green, grey brown, plum coloured or purplish windows which contains few pale island.

Subspecies, varieties, forms and cultivars of plants belonging to the Lithops helmutii group

Notes: Lithops helmutii is considered to be a rather primitive Lithops form, the green, soft-skinned, leaves not completely fused presumably represent some of the most primitive leaf condition within the genus.

Bibliography: Major refences and further lectures
1) Heidrun E. K. Hartmann “Aizoaceae F – Z” Springer 2002
2) Achim Hecktheuer “Mesembs, mehr als nur Lithops” Books on Demand GmbH Norderstedt. 2008
3) Desmond T. Cole & Naureen A. Cole, Uwe Beyer, Yves Delange “Les Lithops” SUCCULENTES Spécial 2008 AIAPS (now Terra seca). 2008
4) Desmond T. Cole & Naureen A. Cole “LITHOPS Flowering Stones” Cactus & Co. Libri. 2005
5) Yasuhiko Shimada “The Genus Lithops” Dobun Shoin. 2001
6) Rudolf Heine “Lithops - Lebende Steine” Neumann Verlag. 1986
7) Bernd Schlösser “Lithops – Lebende Steine” Praktische Anleitung für die Zimmerkultur. BussinessPoint MEDIA. 2000
8) Steven A. Hammer “Lithops – Treasures of the veld” British Cactus and Succulent Society. 1999
9) Desmond T. Cole “Lithops – Flowering Stones” Acorn Books 1988
10) Rudolf Heine “Lithops – lebende Steine” Neumann Verlag. 1986
11) David L. Sprechman “Lithops” Associated University Presses, Inc. 1970
12) Gert Cornelius Nel “Lithops” Hortors Limited, South Africa 1946
13) Edgar Lamb "The illustrated reference on cacti and other succulents" Blandford Press. 1978
14) Christopher Brickell, Royal Horticultural Society "RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants: K-Z., Volume 2" Kindersley, 2008
15) G. C . Nel “Lithops: Plantae succulantae, rarissimae, in terra obscuratae, e famailia Aizoaceae, ex Africa australi” Hortors Limited, 78, Bree Street, Cape Town, South Africa 1946
16) Margaret Martin, Peter Chapman “A gardner's guide to cacti and succulents: how to grow these fascinating plants in the home and greenhouse : featuring 150 species” Salamander Books, Limited, 1988
17) CACTUS & Co, Vol. X, 1, pp 57-59 (2006)

Lithops helmutii Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
Lithops helmutii Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli
- EH65 ex TL, North of Steinkopf, South Africa Photo by: Valentino Vallicelli

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Cultivation and Propagation: The Lithops (a.k.a. Living Stones) are some of the world's most fascinating plants and are sought by the collector of succulent plants. Paying attention to the particular growing requirement of Lithops is especially important. If you provide the Lithops with the right conditions, they will reward you with their unique shape, size, colour and a proliferation of blooms in autumn. However, Lithops are tricky plants that are very particular about their growing conditions and require the right maintenance in order to keep happy. But don't be afraid even the best growers have plants that mysteriously dry up, or leave during the night. While Lithops are picky about their care, if you are patient and remember the basics, your efforts will be rewarded. Being small plants, a representative collection can be grown on a patio table, a sunny windowsill or a shelf in the greenhouse.
Growing rate: Slow growing for a mesemb.
Soil: They grow best in an open mineral, sandy-gritty soil and requires good drainage as they are prone to root rot. They can grow outdoor in sunny, dry, rock crevices (protection against winter wet is required) They can also be cultivated in alpine house, in poor, drained soil.
Repotting: They may stay in the same pot for many years. Plants grown in larger containers have frequently relatively poor flowers. Flowers might improve when the plants are given their own, small individual pots.
Watering They Require little water otherwise the epidermis breaks (resulting in unsightly scars). The basic cultivation routine is: Stop watering after flowering. Start watering after the old leaves are completely dry (usually late March or Early April). Water freely during the growing season, soak the compost fully but allow it to dry out between waterings. In the winter season the plant doesn’t need watering, the plant in this time extracts water from the outer succulent leaves, allowing them to shrivel away, relocating water to the rest of the plant and to the new leaves that form during this period. If grown in a container, bottom watering by immersing the container is recommended. Water sparingly only when warm, no water when cold. Nearly all problems occur as a result of overwatering and poor ventilation, especially when weather conditions are dull and cool or very humid. They must have very dry atmosphere.
Fertilization: Feed them once during the growing season with a fertilizer specifically formulated for cactus and succulents (high potash fertilizer with a dilute low nitrogen), including all micro nutrients and trace elements diluted to ½ the strength recommended on the label. They thrive in poor soils and need a limited supplies of fertilizer to avoid the plants developing excess vegetation, which is easily attacked by fungal diseases. Some growers fertilize frequently, some hardly ever. However, for the highly succulent mesembs, (Lithops, Conophytums, etc.) fertilization is not really necessary.
Light: They prefer a very bright situation and in winter they need the maximum amount of light you are able to give them, but keep more cool and partially shaded in summer. The only exception to this is seedlings in their first year that enjoy a shades place. Such tiny plants can easily get scorched or broiled and their appearance spoiled (this may not matter in the wild, where the Lithops have probably shrunk into the ground and becomes covered with sands). Outdoor (Lithops prefer full sun, with some shade in the hottest summer months. High levels of light are needed in autumn to flower and for good plant development. The low intensity of sun light during the growing season of this species generally prevents the white flower flowers from opening.
Special Advice: Lithops are best planted in a sunny and airy part of the greenhouse, and not too close to the glass roof or sides of the house as the plants can overheat during hot spells.
Hardiness: They require a minimum temperature 5°C (But will take a light frost and are hardy down to -7° C for short periods if they are in dry soil). USDA zones 9A – 11.
Uses: Container, rock garden.
Pests & diseases: Lithops may be attractive to a variety of insects, but plants in good condition should be nearly pest-free, particularly if they are grown in a mineral potting-mix, with good exposure and ventilation. Nonetheless, there are several pests to watch for:
- Red spiders: they may be effectively rubbed up by misting the vulnerable plants every day.
- Mealy bugs: occasianlly they develop aerial into the new leaves and flowers with disfiguring results, but the worst types develop underground on the roots and are invisible except by their effects.
- Sciara Flies: they are one of the major problems for seedlings. It is a good practice to mulch your seedlings with a layer of grit, which will strongly discourage the flies.
- Scales, thrips and aphids: (they are rarely a problem.)
It is wise to treat your whole collection with a systemic insecticide twice a year in spring and autumn.
- Rot: it is only a minor problem with mesembs if the plants are watered and “aired” correctly. If they are not, fungicides won't help all that much.
Remarks: After flowering in the autumn and extending through winter season the plant doesn’t need watering, but they will still be growing, the new bodies will be increasing in size extracting water from the outer succulent leaves, allowing them to shrivel away. In fact the plant in this time extracts water and nutrient stored in the outer succulent leaves, allowing them to dehydrate relocating the water to the rest of the plant and to the new leaves that form during this period until the old leaves are reduced to nothing more than "thin papery shells".
Propagation: Seed or (or rarely) cuttings. The small seeds can be sown in pots of fine, well-drained sand, any time during the spring and summer months when temperatures are warm. Cover the seeds with a very fine layer of grit and water from below with a fungicide to prevent damping off. For the first 3-4 days cover the pots with a sheet of glass/clear perspex to keep the humidity levels high. Remove the glass and replace it with light shadecloth and mist once or twice a day for the next two weeks after which most seeds should have germinated. From then on mistings can be reduced to every second and then every third day as the little plants grow. Take the cuttings from a grown-up mother plant. Each cutting must contain one or more heads along with a fraction of root and permit them to dry out a couple of days, lay the cuttings on the soil and insert the stem end partially into the soil. Try to keep the cutting somewhat upright so that the roots are able to grow downward. It is relatively difficult to root Lithops from cuttings and generally pointless as well, so quick are they from seed.
Comment: Improvement of Lithops characteristics: Some growers (but not all!!) think it is very intriguing to reinforce any characteristic of cultivated Lithops of by crossing two similar selected plants and then back-crossing with the mother plant. This way we can eventually get some interesting results. Of course, many of the nicest Lithops we grow in cultivation have already been selected over time. However many Lithops are already nice plants which can’t really be improved, on the other hand one could try to improve the colour or the markings etc. Now if we have two particular plants we may attempt to breed between them and can maybe get a whole improved population and then select some better offspring to continue the selection.
Seed production: Plants can be hand pollinated, using a small paint brush. Remember always to cross different clones as the plants are self-sterile. The seed will remain viable for many years provided it is stored in a cool dry place.

Watch the video: 30 Different Kinds Of Lithops Living Stones

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