If you don’t have a specialized nursery nearby, the plants you buy usually come without a name, even if they have a tag with a generic label – e.g. ‘succulent’ – . Some plants are fairly easy to identify, others not. Fortunately the genus Lithops is easy to recognise and the most similar looking species which do not belong to Lithops aren’t easy to find and unlikely will ever make their way into a DIY-store. Within Lithops only a few species seem to be available at one time in retail, though that may vary from place to place. For months I’ve seen L. salicola and L. lesliei albinica for sale – any other. Until these two here appeared at the shelf, and they are neither one of those. For obvious reasons I prefer to buy named species or varieties, but in this case, the brick-red colour and the size did it.
Both plants came in tiny two inch pots, in peat moss. So the first task was to undo the mess and take the opportunity to have a closer look at the roots and possible mealies. Roots looked right, and all seems healthy. Peat moss will work while raising plants in a nursery, pushing them with N-high fertilizer till selling size. But in the long term plain peat moss will cause rot, so these two will have to accomodate to a more mineral substrate, with little organic fibres added, high drainage and much deeper pots. The un-rooted view even gives a hint for identifying the species. As most Lithops grown under strong light are just surfacing the substrate, you look only at a minor part of the plant. The body of these two have a short cone shape, rather compressed, the colour is an intense grey with a purple hue. For the size of the ‘faces’ – 31,5 x 27,5mm – the body is quite small.
The fissure that marks the limits between both pairs of leaves, is only half of the width of each face. As all adult Lithops have, as far as I now, complete fissures, running over the whole top, even if this gap doesn’t open, these two plants, which seem adults for their sheer size, must be still immature. The upper surface, with the ‘grooves’ and the ‘isles’, the ‘channels’ and the ‘rubrications’ the ‘dusky spots’ and the open or occluded ‘windows’ are the main characteristics to identify a Lithops without a flower and a seed pod.
After two days in the desert sun – well, its only a solstice sun, and the humidity is around 45%, due to sand loaded winter-winds from the nearby Sahara desert – there is a change in appearance. And as I dont’t know how long these young plants have been dwelling without real light on a bottom shelf, I will be careful if this sunny spell continues. There are new wrinkles, the surface isn’t smooth any more, the channels have deepened in colour and they seem to end in dots.
To me this two look like a brick-red variant of Lithops aucampiae var koelemanii. But they should be viewed by a Lithops specialist, to verify this attribution. How to contact a specialist in Lithops? The easy way is posting a photograph of the plant in question in a specialized forum, fortunately there are many, so you can choose. After a while you’ll discern the real cracks from those that just answer to every question…
I couldn’t refrain from buying a third – and last – one when I saw it. Immature, too, we’ll have to wait to the next or the other ‘mould’ to see how the Lithops develope their real shape and size – yes, they could even downsize – under well lit conditions outdoors. By the way – the score is 5:3 favouring L. aucampiae over L. hookeri right now!
Mid february, all three are preparing their new leaves inside.