There are Lithops then there are amazing Lithops.

There are Lithops then there are amazing Lithops.

There are Lithops then there are amazing Lithops.

A close look at Lithops “Living Jewels” of the desert. But not the natural species. Special breeding’s and varieties rarely seen in the West as Grown by Shimada Yasuhiko. Mr Shimada has been collecting and growing the best for near on 40 years, from all the great collectors of our time. Friend of Desmond Cole, collected from Steven Brack and Steven Hammer, And many others. But first I asked my friend Saki to translate his simple sort concise notes and growing information in his catalogue for you all to read. Some invaluable tips here for the beginner and the enthusiast. Unfortunately, Shimada Yasuhiko is no longer with us. But his son is carrying on the family tradition of growing exceptional Lithops.

I recently received a catalogue from Mr Shimada, I asked Kayo to read to me what he wrote in this most amazing catalogue. I was taken by the easy steps that Mr Shimada used to describe the growing cycle of these jewels. So I felt an urge to share this with the Lithop loving public. And to also share with you some of the amazing plants we have imported from him

To introduce Mr Shimada to those that may not know of him. Japans top breeder, highly acclaimed in the Lithop community. Has for over half his life developed a tradition of fine line breeding, plus creating quiet a few new hybrids, and supplying some fine rarer species.

The Generic name Lithop is a compound Greek word” Lithos = Stone”. “Ops =appearance” this name has been derived from their adaption to survive by mimicking their environment around them having similar colours shapes and colours to the stone’s gravels and soils in which they grow. This makes these Juicy tasty morsels much harder to find by predators in a very arid area. The pebbles they grow among-st vary widely in colour according to their place of origin many are semi-precious gemstones such as Jasper Quartz and agate often used in ornamental jewelry because of their beautiful mimicry of their surroundings Lithops became aptly known as living jewels

Native or Endemic Habitat

Lithop are native to the countries of South Africa, Namibia, and parts of Botswana. Most species grow in arid areas where rainfall can be less than 100 mm in the West, to 500mm in the Eastern area of their range. The leaves of Lithops are highly fleshy to absorb and store small quantities of water when its available to withstand the often long hot dry season. The temperature’s in their habitat is typical of the desert environment with great variability between hot day and cold nights often with a lot night dew and morning fogs. In rare cases light snowfall can be had in July or August. South Africa’s Seasons are the opposite from the Northern hemisphere


The Growing Cycle.

Lithops have a unique lifestyle Mr Shimada, the well known Lithops specialist grower, calls it “the growing cycle” which is divided into periods. If you know and understand these characteristics. Lithops are quiet an easy plant to grow.

In its native habitat Lithops are dormant during the summer, often buried or partially in the soil to protect itself from the heat and dryness, while still photosynthesizing by taking in the light from the apex of their leaves (windows), they are forming new leaves at this time for the next generation of leaves.

  The First period.

During the rainy season, the Lithops absorb water and the dry shriveled leaf swells and lifts itself from the ground, with the Autumn rains. This is the most vigorous growing period which begins in September in Japan. March in Aust. You can see some varieties start to bloom now. Shade cloth or nets should be removed around October Jap March April Aust. To get more light

  The Second Period.

Around November on wards, May Aust, Lithops appear to stop growing, But in fact it is still actively growing, Now mostly dividing with the new inner leaves absorbing the water and nutrients from the old leaf. This continues until the end of march Jap, September Aust, this time it needs less water. Too much water will cause it to grow tall and spindly and to molt abnormally. Or have difficulty molting as the old leaf will not shrivel owing to too much water So it should be grow in a dry environment so they can Molt early.

  The Third Period

When the Molt is complete, from April to may Japan, October to November Aust. The new leaf is growing and should be watered twice a month to make them strong. At this time, the sunlight becomes stronger and the temperature rises so your Lithops would like some extra shading 50-60%  from the end of June Japan, December Aust, From the end of June it gradually enters Aestivation (semi dormancy).

  The Fourth Period

This is the resting time for Lithops where we can allow them to shrivel a bit. On really hot days a very light watering or misting  helps them from dehydrating to much, (emulate a fog or dew) the very odd light watering wont hurt, They are really waiting for the Autumn rains when the nights are a bit cooler


Growers Tips.

Irrigation “watering” is the most important thing with growing Lithops. The amount and frequency of watering depends on the nature of the soil mixes you are using, It would vary between fine culture soils predominantly of river sand and coarse culture soils made up of Kunuma soil (Yellow volcanic clay more acidic than Pumice) or Akadama pumice or perlite soils. Here (Japan) we mix together equal parts of Kunuma soil Akadama and river sand of less than 4 mm or less which is sieved to remove the fine powder (often clay based with too much water holding ability)

Kanuma and Pumice, seemingly have contradictory properties of both being able to retain moisture as well as being exception open texture for fast drainage the other attribute is its high air content or porosity around the roots. Akadama is a semi decomposed pumice, surface mined   


1 Soil and pot selection

Pots can be ceramic or plastic but not thick ones. Fertilizer should be mixed with a small amount of Magamp K  (we use Osmocote or Nutricote in AU) But organic fertilizer should not be added unless its good quality, (I think some of the organic mixes are too rich for Lithops)

2 Irrigation

During the first and third periods, irrigation is necessary two to 3 times a month. In the second period the roots do not require much water so once a month is sufficient. If there is too much water during this season, Lithops can “molt” twice. In the fourth period it depends on the weather conditions of the year. In cold summer with lots of rain, they should be kept dry. When the heat is intense a light mist over or brief spray over with the hose would be welcomed in the evening but not a deep water. Over watering at this time will cause Lithops to extend or overreach making them unsightly from their usual compact ground hugging nature. Prolonged hot dry periods can cause Lithops to be fatigued

3 The amount of Light

As described in the growing cycle

4 Ventilation

Ventilation is of the utmost importance Lithops should be fully ventilated from Spring to Autumn. (Spring to November NH)

5 Re-potting

Lithops can be replanted all year round. They are different from Conophytums who share the same territory as Lithops. Conophytum take a break from November March in  Aust. May to September Japan, they are covered buy their old shell of a leaf to protect then from drying or burning in the sun. Lithops can take root at any time of the year when its planted and watered. So, once it has taken root, you should then grow it according to the season you are in.


The Situation in native habitat now.

The habitats of Lithops and Conophytum, and also many Cordex plants are currently in a state of crisis. According to the South African police, the task force that deals with ivory smuggling note that. A number of thieves from other countries are uprooting popular Lithop and Conophytum species and colonies often done by employing local inhabitants to export them back to where they have become so valuable. This is causing devastation to the native habitats. More recently SA has suffered one if most severe droughts where many plant populations have been affected or reduced.


About the Cole number following the botanical name.

The color and pattern of the tops of Lithops closely resembles the soil and pebbles of their particular locality. With this mimicry to protect themselves from being tasty watery morsels for the local fauna in a hot and water scarce environment. The same species can be found in several colonies at several locations where each of which closely resemble the varied geological rocks and gravel of that particular site. The C number following the Botanical name is the Cole number with follow up data and location of that particular collection site

This is a slightly rewritten version of Shimada Yasuhiko notes in his catalogue which I thought was short very precise and pertinent and well put together translated by Saki.  


Some further notes and info to help you understand Lithops.

Desmond and Nauren  Cole.. together over 50 years amassed an amazing collection with their unrivaled study of Lithops. Two species have been discovered by them and bear their Names Lithop naureeniae and Lithop coleorum

Lithops are a unique Genera that have adapted to one of the oldest deserts on earth 55 million years old. With an unusual weather pattern of a very cold ocean current on the west side which when the cooler winds from the Western ocean mingles with the warmer desert air, fogs are created overnight with good dew falls this extra water bonus enable these fat leaved plants to survive in the most arid conditions Days are hot nights can be very cold and winter may bring a light dusting of snow. On another plain evolutionists cite Lithops as the most extreme example outside the animal kingdom of a whole Genus of plants apparently resorting to cryptic coloration (Mimicry) in that they are barely discernible in nature copying the colour of the rocks gravel and soil in which they grow white quartz like red sandstone block tops greens, red browns Jasper creamy pink. agates So well do they blend in they are almost invisible or extremely hard to find for the untrained eye. Lithops range from Namibia in the West. Southward to Cape Province then Eastward and North to Orange Free State to Transvaal. Barely touching into Botswana. Rainfall is as low as a 100 mm in Namibia to up to 500 mm in the eastern areas.


Cole has described in great detail 37 species of Lithop with over 40 subspecies, 406 descriptions of locality variations. There are now well over 100 varieties, cultivars or mutations. And Line breeding’s now on record worthy of a name. Shimada has a large  contribution in this area. See our photos below

Lithop clumps can be divided but what a shame to pull apart a large old clump. So seed is where it’s at. It’s the slow way as Lithops may take 3 to 5 years to flower, Most Lithop enthusiasts dabble or specialize in breeding certain or special characteristics special markings such as L dorothea Zorro with couple of big zig zags across the leaf, Or the several forms of L karasmontana lateritia, Top Red, Blood red. To develop these line breeding’s you need to select just a few of the best to represent the special trait you like. Grow and breed them. With each selection your percentage of your desirable traits will increase. After 3 to 4 generations of doing this the seed produced by these plants have a high percentage of your selected trait Maybe 9 to 12 years work. Hybrids are also grown from seed. Throwbacks should be discarded. Shimada only sells plants that are up to standard to his criteria. No seed leaves his nursery. Lithops as a rule need two different plants to get pollination to work

Lithop sellers are a bit hard to find or hard to contact Mesa garden in the US a couple in South Africa. I have tried some other collectors and well known the US and Europe, But its really hard to get a return Email let alone discuss an order with them And everyone seems scared to send seed to Australia. This makes Australia a lonely place for the Lithop fancier

Mesa gardens catalogue has well over 600 selections of Lithops from a variety of collectors to help you with you understanding of Lithop and Conophytum lists they are a bit different to other lists Here are few of the more well known abbreviations associated with Conos and Lithops. ‘TL.’ type location.’ CV’ cultivar derived from a cultivated variety or aberrant colour form from nature.’ Subsp’. Subspecies, a consistently different form of the primary described species. ‘var’. A variation from the described species, Cole often may have C104A this is one of these aberrant colour forms that have naturally occurred at that locality.

Seed lists and books also have these abbreviations These are collections by avid collectors who have often found new types or different types than what Desmond Cole may have described. These are often in many collectors hands Tok; Tok Schoeman. SB; Steven Brake. SH; Steven Hammer. Fik; Fik du Plooy. MS; Mesa Garden. DB; De Boer.



Calendar of the Lithop year

               Southern hemisphere                                     Northern Hemisphere

Summer the Fourth period

                                     December.                        June:  

        Rest Time                                                             Aestevation (Dormancy)      

                                         January.                         July:                                                      Semi dormancy                                                     Minimal water evening 

                                        February.                        August: 

     Still hot plants shriveled:                                          Keep that odd evening  wash

Autumn the First Period

                                            March.                        September:

    Autumn rains begin:                                                   best growing time

                                             April.                           October:

          Flowers are coming:                                            Remove your shade

             The molt begins                                                New leaves appearing

                                               May                            November                

        Flowering in earnest                                             Nearly stopped growing                          

Winter Second Period                                                                                            

                                              June                            December                                                 

    Lithops slowing their growth                                    Absorbing their old leaves                   

     Flowering will finish soon                                                                                 

                                                July                           January                                   

  Not too much water                                                  Space the watering a bit

                                             August                        February                            

  L optica rubra last to flower                                                                                 

  Spring The Third Period                                                                                       

                                           September                   March                                        

      Begin watering fortnightly                                        Molt should be complete    

                                            October                      April                                         

            Think about shading                                            Shade 30 to 60%            

                                         November                      May                                           

            Spring growth slowing


       One year old seedlings in our nursery




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