Lithops salicola ‘Malachite’ (2023)

The sweet-scented flowers on lithops close in the evening but continue to reopen for several days. Photo by Nikki Murdick.

By Mike Reynierse (and Nikki Murdick)
(December 2023)

When my name was called at the picnic drawing, I chose a lovely clumping Lithops salicola ‘Malachite’. According to available information, this is a rarely seen form of Lithops salicola that is a gray-green to emerald-green color, the normal coloration being gray to brown.

Lithops are perennial members of the plant family Aizoaceae. They are sometimes called mesembs (for Mesembryanthemum, a previous name for these plants). The name lithops – used both for an individual plant and a group of plants – comes from the Greek words for “stone” (lithos) and “like” (opsis). As they are often found hiding among gravel or rocks in South Africa and Namibia, this is an appropriate name for them.

Lithops are dwarf, almost stemless plants that are usually sunken into the soil. Each plant consists of two conjoined leaves which are almost completely fused together and have various markings or windows on their tops. Many lithops eventually make a clump of several plants as each year new leaf pairs grow.

Flowering occurs for most lithops between July and October (although they can flower earlier in the summer and even later into December). The sweet-scented flowers emerge between the two leaves and are usually white, cream, or some shade of yellow. Typically, the flowers open in the late afternoon and stay open into the evening. They will then close but will reopen the next day and continue to do so for several days.

Lithops like strong light but should be protected from hot afternoon sun. They also appreciate lots of air movement. Photo by Nikki Murdick.

Lithops are said to be difficult plants to grow. Lithops salicola is considered one of the easier lithops to grow successfully, since if you err in its watering regimen, it is less likely to immediately die. Most authors note that if one follows the guidelines for the type of soil mixture and the watering regimen, then lithops will thrive in your care. All should be planted in a fast-draining soil mix with a minimum of 50 percent pumice in the mixture to prevent overwatering.

Watering is always an issue, as lithops can easily rot if the type of soil mixture and the time of year are not considered. Typically, most lithops should be given a rest in winter while the new growth is drawing moisture from the old leaves. Here in Missouri, that means very little water should be given between November and May.

If you keep your lithops in your house under lights, as we do, they will need some watering every couple of weeks during the winter so that their feeder roots do not shrivel and die. Once the old leaves dry up in the spring, you can begin watering, if the plant does not stand in water.

During the summer, when it is very hot, they may go dormant for a short time and need to have lighter watering again. When the flower buds begin to appear in late summer or early fall, you need to expand your watering regimen before you taper it off as winter begins, usually about November.

Another thing to remember is lithops like strong light, especially in the morning. Many authors say they should be protected from our hot afternoon sun, as they may sunburn. In addition, they like to experience air movement. In summer we keep our lithops on the covered second-floor deck, where they get morning sun, bright light in the afternoon and plenty of air movement.


British Cactus and Succulent Society – Growing Mesembs –
British Cactus and Succulent Society – Cultivation Notes on Lithops
Kyle’s Plants
Living Stones Nursery – Lithops Care Sheet –
Rare Plant Seeds
A Key to Lithops (Aizoaceae) – Clark, Jonathan – 1996
Lithops: Treasures of the Veld – Hammer, Steven – 2010
Mesembs of the World: Illustrated Guide to a Remarkable Succulent Group – Smith, Gideon; Chesselet, P.; van Jaarsveld, E.; Hartmann, H.; Hammer, S.; van Wyk, B.E.; Burgoyne, P.; Klak, C.; and Kurzweil, H. – 1998