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Unreal houseplants

27 May 2022
Photo: Getty Images

Impersonators of pebbles and with a weird similarity to people, lithops have migrated from the desert to our living rooms. Words & Photos Liz Carlson

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that lithops (Lithops sp.) are some of the most unusual
houseplants around, so much so that people often believe they aren’t even real. Mimicking the appearance of stones has earned them the common name of living stones, and they are some of the weirdest little succulents out there. Native to South Africa and Namibia, lithops are essentially two juicy leaves mostly buried beneath the soil.

This pair of fleshy leaves look a lot like stones, with a crevice in between them. I love hearing people’s
first impression of them: hooves, faces and bums are the usual guesses. Thriving in the harsh desert
environment of Africa, lithops were discovered by accident when a botanist picked up what he believed to be a rock. The rest is history.

Lithops are very unusual compared to most of our leafy green tropical houseplants. They belong to the Aizoaceae family; they are also grouped with highly succulent species collectively known as mesembs (commonly known as ice plants). They’re known for recycling the old leaves to produce new growth and have adapted to the predictable rainfall patterns of the African desert.

Other mesembs we know and love here in New Zealand are Conophytum, Pleiospilos and Titanopsis, all of which resemble stones or pebbles. These stone plants occupy a specific space in the plant collector’s world, though new plant parents often find understanding their unusual care regimen tricky...

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