The Story Behind Fungi Fairy Rings

What Are Fairy Rings?

If you’ve ever stumbled upon mushrooms growing in a circle shape, you might wonder if you’ve entered a magical land. What makes these fungi grow in a circle? It is aliens, or fairies, or something a bit more straightforward? Researchers found a fairy ring 2,000 feet in diameter in France, a living fungi that is more than 700 years old!

Garden Collage has more about the myths and legends surrounding these magical fungi.

According to many English and Celtic tales, any human who enters a fairy ring will be forced to dance with the creatures, unable to stop until they go mad or perish of exhaustion. Dutch traditions tell of fairy rings that were created by the devil as a place to keep his milk churn, and any livestock that were to enter said circle would suffer the souring of their own milk.

The Science Behind Fairy Rings

There’s actually a very interesting scientific explanation for fairy rings. Read on to see the story behind fungi fairy rings.

The Department of Biology at the University of Utah wrote about how these fairy rings are created by Marasmius oreades, the most well-known fairy ring creating fungi.

“The body of this fungus, its mycelium, is underground. It grows outward in a circle. As it grows, the mycelium uses up all of the nutrients in the soil, starving the grass. This is the reason a fairy ring has dead grass over the growing edge of the mycelium. Umbrella-shaped fruiting bodies, called mushrooms, spring up from just behind the outer edge of the mycelium.”

The phenomenon of fairy rings with mushrooms is related to the way that fungi come to life. Fungi naturally grow in groups out of decaying matter. Margot Cumming, a plant pathology researcher at UW-Madison, described how the fairy rings depend on decay below the surface:

“Fairy rings are caused by certain fungi that feed on decaying organic matter (e.g., tree stumps, logs, leaves or roots) buried in the soil. Growth of fairy ring fungi begins in the center of the ring, expanding outward in a relatively uniform, circular pattern.”

In the cool darkness, mushrooms find the nutrients they need and pop up beneath the dirt.

None of this should make you feel any less magical when you encounter a circle of mushrooms growing in nature. Fungi are a paradigm of interconnectedness and they grow in networks beneath the ground.

Mushrooms are part of a vast underground whisper network, nestled among the tree roots in the dark. They share information about the health of trees and their local ecosystem.

The next time you stumble upon a fairy ring of mushroom with your friends, think twice about spoiling the magic for them immediately. Give them a moment to marvel in the mystery and then reveal the scientific explanation behind this beautiful natural phenomenon.

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