Lithops: Plants Pretending to be Stones

Feature image from

Lithops or living stones, the name by which they are commonly known, are resilient, partially subterranean desert plants that survive being eaten by thirsty animals  by mimicking the stones and pebbles on the ground around them. In the wild they are found only in three countries: Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana.

Earlier in the course we discussed plant intelligence. Imagine a plant being smart enough to imitate non-living material in order to survive. It is essentially playing dead and getting away with it.

Art Concept: Create a large lithop within its environment then place it outdoors in our environment, somewhere near the Visual Arts building.

Lithops are around the size of a loonie, the one I am working on is approximately a foot in diameter. Since we are in Victoria, which is not a desert, the environment will be green rather than desert brown, rust or sand-coloured. It seems likely that rather than being well hidden,  this lithop will stand out . . . let’s add some absurdity to this camouflage project.

Art Process:

Even though I have been thinking about lithops since the beginning of the course, I was also interested in the fields of long, green grass alongside Gordon Head Road across from the Visual Arts’ parking lot. That was my original camouflage location. However, I also realized the possibility that it may be mown before the project was finished. I bought some heavy unbleached canvas and wanted to test it for colour before I made my decision.


Had I chosen the grassy location, I wouldn’t have had to alter the colour by much, judging by the way the canvas reflected the surrounding greenery.

Once I had decided upon the lithop, I had to think about creating the environment itself as the lithop adapts to its landscape, essentially disappearing into it.

I wanted to create a ground cover for myself, rather than a wearable work of art. Of course, I could have simply made the lithop and placed myself directly into the landscape around the Visual Arts building . . .

I was thinking about an area of mixed gravel or cement bordered by grass and trees where there would be sun but also some shade in the afternoon. Don’t want to cook my lithop.


Lithops live naturally in diverse, harsh growing habitats and can survive in rocky or sandy areas with next to no rainfall. In these conditions they lie virtually flat to the ground to preserve water held within their two succulent leaves.  The mottled patterns found on the top of these two leaves are actually transparent windows that allow light to reach the taproot growing below ground. Brilliant!

I started out by handpainting a 5 x 5 ft sheet which is approximately my height.  I chose colours that might be reflective of a shadier time of day.


I later realized that it would be better if the sheet had more weight, so I bought another piece the same size to be used underneath the first.


I decided not to permanently adhere these two pieces together as I like the flexibility of separating the two pieces for colour variation. I also purchased a doily to use for the whitish dried leaves that are sometimes seen around the lithop after it splits to reveal new leaves.

Now, I am onto building the plant. In hindsight, I should have cut out some material in a lithop shape and stuffed it to make it slightly puffy. Right now, it is made of cardboard and foam glued together with some cotton balls in between. Not ideal, but I’m going with it.


My lithops are slowly turning green. Have some issues with the way I made these pieces–the staples, the foam, the cardboard, the cotton balls . . .

After various problem-solving strategies I finished the piece. I hope to get a better image tomorrow. My lithop is sheltered along a ridge for protection–presently growing in the kitchen. Needs to be moved outdoors . . .





Lithop Lady II

Lady Lithop

Special thanks to Cliff, Jordan, and Brynn for photo session! Thank you also to other students/staff who helped set up and take down the equipment.

Lithops are occasionally mentioned in books on cacti and succulents. However, there are a few internet sites dealing specifically with them.

Internet Resources:

The above website provides good information and reference material. It is from the Wisconsin Master Gardener program. It shows a good selection of plants and their colour variations.

This website provides promotional material on a book titled Wild Lithops. There is a contact form if interested in purchasing it.

More information, if interested in growing them here.