Living Rocks (Pleiospilos nelii)


These odd little African succulents start out egg-shaped, then split open to reveal a smaller capsule that in turn splits open at right angles to the first.

Pleiospilos 'Royal Flush'

In spring, being ice plants, they produce neon-bright, multipetalled, daisylike flowers.


Pleiospilos are  tiny water tanks, accustomed to going months–even a year–without rainfall.

Pleiospilos nelii_JFR

They’re also impossible to pronounce, I mean, what’s up with those three vowels in a row? The name comes from the Greek pleios (full) and spilos (dots). These are tiny windows that allow sunlight into the body of the plant, enabling it to photosynthesize.

Pleiospilos Nelii & P. Bolusii

Grow pleiospilos in coarse, fast-draining soil. Give full sun in all but hottest climates and protect from frost. Unlike lithops, which it resembles, the plant bodies sit atop the soil (lithops like to be buried with just their tops showing).

Pleisopilus in bloom

Keep pleiospilos dry when the leaves are splitting. When in doubt, don’t water. Be sure to sniff the flowers; they remind me of coconut-scented tanning lotion.

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 

About Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin gardens on "an inhospitable half acre" in Escondido, CA, near San Diego. She is an award-winning photojournalist and artist with hundreds of articles and columns to her credit. Debra's books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.

If you enjoyed this article, get email updates (it's free).

, , , , , , ,

9 Responses to Living Rocks (Pleiospilos nelii)

  1. Mel February 21, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    Didn’t they use to be called Lithops?

  2. Jeannine February 21, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Nature always fascinates me. This bloom is amazing and quite unexpected from a plant that resembles a rock! Jeannine

  3. Gareth February 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I wasn’t aware of the these succulents before but I think I may try acquiring some for my son as I think they may just be the thing to kick start his interest in horticulture! !

  4. Teresa Marie February 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Thank you so much – I appreciate this post. I love succulents. I’ve never seen this variety in bloom! Such a treat.

  5. Candy Suter February 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    Hey girl! You have no idea how many of these things I have killed. Mostly with too much water. And then guess what….I went outside the other day in my planting area. I was going to rearrange the pots and what did I find. One of these unpronounceable succulents. Still happy. WHAT? So now that’s what I will do from now on. Pretend it doesn’t exist!

    Super duper post by the way! Did you see my Aeonium one?

  6. Charlie February 23, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Amazing. I am always searching for plants that are new to me and take me into a new direction. This was very interesting. I loved the photos. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Florida Landscaping Company February 26, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    These ‘living rock’ plants are incredible! I can’t say I’ve ever come across these plants here in Central Florida – might be too hot (?) for outdoor/landscape use. Still, they are stunning to see even in photos!

  8. Margaret (Peggy) Herrman February 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    very cool! thanks so much for sharing :- )

  9. Lisa March 2, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I have some seeds for living rocks. I have been hesitant to plant them as I know nothing of these type of plants. Thanks for sharing the pics and info on these types of plants.