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What are Fairy Rings?

A fairy ring in a lawn- the ring measures 7 feet across! 
photo by David Gough
In spite of the name, Fairy Rings have nothing to do with fairies, but everything to do with fungi.  

Sometimes, on a lawn, field, or in the woods, you’ll come upon a circle of mushrooms – a ‘fairy ring’.  But where did the name fairy ring come from?  You can trace it back to ancient folklore:

“The name fairy ring comes from an old folk tale.  People once believed that mushrooms growing in a circle followed the path made by fairies dancing in a ring . . .”
 Celtic peoples believed if you wanted to enter a ring, that you must first run around it nine times – not ten, or you’ll annoy the fairies!

A common fairy ring that appears in lawns is the Fairy Ring Marasmius.  We see the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) but most of the fungus is underground (mycelium) spreading out to form a circle which is usually greener than the rest of the grass.

Rings of the Fairy Ring Marasmius have been measured up to 10 metres in diameter.  A fairy ring of a different species found in France was said to be 600 metres in diameter and more than 700 years old.

* Ask Al is a regular feature in NatureWILD magazine. NatureWILD is produced quarterly by NatureKids BC and comes free with membership

Who is Al? Al Grass has worked as a career park naturalist and ranger throughout BC. Now he is a well-known nature tour leader and photographer. Al especially likes birds, insects and spiders. If you have a nature question you want answered write to Al at: info@naturekidsbc.ca and perhaps your question will be answered in an upcoming issue!  

What are Fairy Rings, NatureWILD Volume 10, Issue 1, 2009