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Opossum Polyculture

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Opossum Polyculture
by Pamela Sonn - Sunday, December 13, 2020, 2:21 PM

Possums are probably not everyone's choice species to build a polyculture around, but they are so useful in an ecosystem, and I want my property to be a healthy ecosystem.  There is a neighborhood ‘den’ under our front porch that is sometimes utilized by raccoons, skunks, and opossums.  The possum activity increases in spring and I would like to encourage them; I find their ability to eat ticks especially valuable!


Polyculture Name: ‘Possum Polyculture


Polyculture Goals:

  1. It is a goal to attract tick- and insect eating- opossums.
  2. It is a goal to not exclude other species who also use the den under the porch (especially skunks).
  3. It is a goal that plants planted to encourage opossums also be useful and/or agreeable to humans.


Consumers/Animals: This polyculture will attract, or facilitate the presence of, opossums.  Possums stay 2-3 nights in a location before moving on but they do note agreeable locations and return to them.  Possums consume TICKS, slugs, insects, and overly ripe fruit.  Humans do not interact with the possums but do make space for them.  Possums are nocturnal and humans seldom see them on their rounds.  A wildlife camera is useful in detecting that they are even present!  Currently, possums ‘patrol’ the perimeter of the house when they are visiting.  This provides them cover and a route.  Other animals in that corridor include: birds, occasional cats, skunks, raccoons, groundhogs, chipmunks, mice, and voles. 


Decomposers/Abiotic Factors:  No new soil or abiotic conditions are needed – mostly some more plants would help.  This is the south side of the house, so warmed.  This side does contain a spigot which still needs to easily accessed.  It is well drained.  A drain pipe goes down from the house to the cistern following the line of peonies and grape – which probably gives them a bit of water from leaks.  The village installed new ‘improved’ LED street lights that do not turn themselves off at 9:00 pm like the old ones did.  This means that there are light beams creating light pollution in streamers across the yard at night.  This is minimized when the leaves are on the apple tree but in the fall, winter, and early spring, the yard can appear brighter at night than it used to and this may impact nocturnal creatures’ sense of exposure/ safety.


Producers/Plants: Plants, Niche Analysis, etc.

Possums prefer to not be in the open.  They like some cover provided by bushy low plants.  On our property they move along the side of the house, between the shrubbery and the house foundation.   Along the south side of the house, there is currently only one ‘fruit’ option; a wild grape that will not go away.  It produces some fruit later in the season.  I would like to plant some fruiting options close to the house and to establish possum-friendly plants around a lilac that is near to the house.  Possum courting starts in February; baby possums start arriving in March.  Possums presumably benefit from plants that attract slugs and insects.   Slugs and snails are known to like hostas, violets, ageratum, lilies, cleome, strawberries, lettuce, and cabbage.  Of these, violets, lilies, strawberries and lettuce are most agreeable to me to have planted in this area – either for eating or aesthetic purposes.


Canopy layer

  • Extant: lilac, fire bush, viburnum, irritating maple that keeps coming back.


Herbaceous layer:

  • Extant: rhubarb, peonies, bushy grape, hosta
  • New: tall lilies (Pretty Woman, etc.)


Groundcover layer:

  • Extant: Siberian squill, columbine, love-lies-bleeding
  • New: strawberries, lettuce, violets


What is the context of this polyculture? Where would it work, and where would it likely not work?

  • This polyculture would work best in a village landscape – not entirely urban, not entirely rural. 
  • It could possibly work in a more urban area if there was a wildlife corridor or other pro-wildlife residents.


What questions remain? What aspects of the design are you unsure about?

  • I don’t usually plant food plants close to the house because, having an old house, I’m unsure about lead in the soil.
  • In the spirit of tapestry lawns and of no-mow-meadows: would the opossums also graze on crimson clover?  On the species attracted to the environment provided by crimson clover?
  • How far is a reasonable ‘jump’ distance for a possum’s night’s foraging?  I plan on extending the footprint around the lilac to narrow the distance to the peonies – the idea being to make it part of the cover for an additional wildlife/ possum patrol area. 
  • We have occasional owls take out rabbits in the night.  Do owls also feed on possums?
  • Does planting sacrificial vegetation – to attract species (slugs, snails, insects) that then attract another desired species (possums) – add or compound other problems I’m not thinking about?