Living Rocks (Pleiospilos nelii)

– Posted in: Garden Plants, Succulents


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. 

Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. Debra is a regular contributor to Sunset and other publications, and her own half-acre garden near San Diego has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens. Debra specializes in showing how to use architectural, waterwise and easy-care succulents in a wide variety of appealing and creative applications.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin

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12 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Mel February 21, 2013, 6:36 am

Didn’t they use to be called Lithops?

Jeannine February 21, 2013, 11:46 am

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

Gareth February 21, 2013, 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! !

Teresa Marie February 21, 2013, 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.

Candy Suter February 21, 2013, 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?

Charlie February 23, 2013, 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.

Florida Landscaping Company February 26, 2013, 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!

Margaret (Peggy) Herrman February 27, 2013, 3:06 pm

very cool! thanks so much for sharing :- )

Lisa March 2, 2013, 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.

João April 5, 2015, 1:16 pm

May we use sandy soils for them? like the sand from nearby beach?

Niki Rece May 11, 2016, 3:40 pm

I have three of these in my succulent dish garden here at work. the central “leaves” are about four times the height of the originals. There seem to be two sets of leaves for each plant. They no longer look like those in your photos, though they started out that way and were sold under the same name with tags that looked just like your pictures.

Colindale Flower Gardening August 11, 2016, 9:23 am

They are amazing! So marvelous, so colorful! I don’t imagine what is to look at them, to touch them. You got me interested in them!

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