Fairy rings can be found in lawns, forests, golf courses – almost anywhere. They appear as circles in the ground marked either by withered grass or by the presence of mushrooms. Sometimes mushroom rings are also accompanied by lusher, darker grass. They have also been called “fairy circles” or “pixie rings”.
Folklore tells us that the rings were the meeting places of the fey folk where they would hold their parties and dances. A ring of withered grass was formed by the fairies dancing in a circle. Alternatively, if the ring was made of mushrooms then these would form seats for the fairies.
Whether finding a fairy ring is lucky or unlucky depends on local legend. Certainly if you come across one at night when the fairies are dancing then the stories advise caution. If you enter the circle then you might join the party and might enjoy a great dance – but might never again leave the world of faerie.
In the late 18th century fairy rings were identified as the reults of fungal growth – mushrooms.
The most common cause of fairy rings is the mushrom Marasmius oreades, however other species can also cause the effect. Some of these are poisonous.
The fungus grows mainly underground, spreading out in a circle. As the fungus grows outwards, the central part dies off. At the edge of the ring, where it’s still growing underground, it absorbs nutrients and causes the withered effect in grass. Where the fungus has died towards the centre, its remains provide nutrients and can lead to lusher, greener grass. When conditions are right, mushrooms will grow above ground at the edge of the ring.
If there is enough nutrient and no obstacles, fairy rings can coninue to expand for many years and can easily reach 30 feet in diameter. One in France was reported to reach half a mile in diameter after growing for hundreds of years.