When I found a fairy ring of fly agarics during a walk in the forest this week, I knew I had found the perfect subject for my next '100 things' post!
A fairy ring (also sometimes called elf circle or pixie ring) is a naturally occuring ring of mushrooms. Fairy circles start from one spore in the center of the ring. Underground, the fungal mycelia grow out in all directions. Where nutrients in the soil are depleted, the fungus dies, so only the outer ring of a fairy circle can be said to be alive. In autumn, the fruiting bodies of the fungus (mushrooms), poke their heads out of the soil, forming the fairy circle we see. These mushrooms are therefore not seperate organisms, but all part of the underground fungus. If a fairy circle is seen surrounding a tree, the fungus is living in a commensal relationship with the roots of the tree.
There are about 60 species of fungi known which can grow in fairy ring pattern. The fungus Marasmius oreades
is even known as the fairy ring champignon! Fairy rings can grow very large (up to multiple 100 meters) and in these cases the organism is also very old.
Fairy rings have of old been surrounded by a great deal of folklore. Their name in all the major European languages points to supernatural origins: sorcerer's ring (ronds de sorciers
) in French and witches ring (Hexenringe
) in German. In German tradition, fairy rings where believed to be the site where witches danced during Walpurgis Night, in Scandinavian and Celtic tales, it was the result of elves or fairies dancing and in Tyrol, it was said a fairy ring was the result of a fiery tail of a dragon. Many folk tales consider fairy rings as dangerous places, best avoided. Multiple things are said to happen to those who enter a fairy ring: you will die young, you will become invisible to anyone outside the ring or may find it impossible to leave!