Living stones brighten late-summer doldrums
Rumor has it there are people who actually prefer work to, say, gardening, but I’m definitely not one of them. Unfortunately, work does take up a large chunk of my time since I have to earn a living, and this week has been particularly busy. I haven’t been able to do much of anything in the garden other than my usual walkthrough, but the other day I was greeted by this when I got back from an evening walk with my wife and younger daughter:
|Pleiospilos bolusii just starting to bloom. |
The flowers open in the late afternoon and close at dusk. It seems that everything about this plant is strange in one way or another!
Pleiospilos bolusii is an odd succulent from South Africa that falls in the “living stones” category. Its common name is “split rock” or “mimicry plant,” and it’s easy to see why.
Its native habitat is very dry, with as little as 4” (100 mm) of rainfall per year. To deal with such extreme conditions, Pleiospilos bolusii has a long taproot, much like thistles or sea hollies. To allow room for the taproot, I’ve planted my specimen in an extra deep pot. With a depth of 6¾", IKEA’s Mandel pot is perfect for this—and a bargain at $2.99.
The key to keeping this oddity alive is to strictly control the amount of water it gets. The only time it should be watered is once a week from later summer to early fall. In the winter, its prime growing season, new leaves emerge from the old leaves, which are eventually consumed entirely. If the plant is watered during this stage of active growth, the old leaves remain and the plant eventually rots and dies. Experts say that this plant is so drought-tolerant that it could go without water for an entire year in a typical North American or European climate.
Keeping the plant in a deep pot is clearly the best way to go. Our potted plant is on the edge of our succulent bed, away from any irrigation, from spring to early winter. During the rainy season, I keep it on our covered front porch. Pleiospilos bolusii is hardy to the mid 20s (-5°C) so in our zone there’s no need to bring it inside.
My potted Pleiospilos bolusii in a Mandel pot from IKEA
At this time of year, when flowering perennials and even ornamental grasses are getting a bit long in the tooth and the garden is beginning to look tired in general, it’s wonderful to see this pop of color from what is otherwise an unassuming plant.
If you’re fascinated by Pleiospilos bolusii, check out the “real” living stones: the genus Lithops. Lithops are true collector plants, and much information is available on the web. This site is a great place to start.
Living stones are easy to find, at least here in Northern California. Almost every box store has them. In addition, there are quite a few specialty nurseries that sell online, including Living Stones Nursery.