Posted on Oct 5, 2013 | 0 comments

Story and photographs by David Imbrogno

Late summer and fall is when “Fairy Rings” of mushrooms appear. These strange autumn apparitions are said to be the places where fairies danced the night before. They are also said to be the resting places of dragons.  Other explanations abound.



But beware. Legend says to never step into a Fairy Ring. If an exhausted dragon doesn’t come crashing down on top of you, you will most likely come under the power of the fairies.

It has been observed that sheep and cattle instinctively know of these dangers. Grazing nose to the grass, as they approach the edge of a Fairy Ring they mysteriously navigate around it and move on. This is true and, there is a good reason why they avoid the rings. I will explain …


You might compare Fairy Rings to a grass fire. A spore starts the ring like a match in dry grass. The Fairy Ring “burns” outward in a widening circle.  The underground strands of fungus expanding in advance of the ring stunts the grass. Thus, sheep and cattle approaching the ring, encounter the coarse, dry grass surrounding it and simply maneuver around.

But, within the ring, the fungus has completed its job of digesting debris and enriching the soil. Here the grass is lush and green. If the cows and sheep were to look up, they might have seen the grassy bounty within … or perhaps they know bounty is there but also fear that entering the ring to eat it isn’t worth the risks of plummeting dragons or coming under the power of fairies.

William Blake's vision of the formation of a Fairy Ring



A Fairy Ring is made up of individual mushrooms linked together by an underground network made up of strands of fungal mycelia. Over sixty species of mushroom form Fairy Rings. There are two basic groups, one found in the forest and one in fields and meadows.


Many species that make Fairy Rings are edible. This is one of the most common, a species of Campestris, similar to the mushrooms found at the grocery. However, note that “there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters but, there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.” With sixty species of mushrooms forming Fairy Rings, be very careful. If you are brave, see this Fairy Ring Cookbook .



I found this Fairy Ring a few miles down the road. It is young and very small. Even so you can see the coarser grass surrounding it and green grass within.

Rings have been traced spreading over large expanses of land with ages estimated at many hundreds of years. One of the largest rings ever found is in France. Formed by Infundibulicybe geotropa, it is thought to be about 600 metres (2,000 ft) in diameter and over 700 years old. On the South Downs in southern England, Calocybe gambosa has formed huge fairy rings that also appear to be hundreds of years old.



Finally, in autumn, when most plants are declining, the fungi take over. As the cool wet weather of November approaches they reach their peak.  Fungi come in almost every imaginable shape and color.

If I ever figure out how to photograph one of the most spectacular, I may do my next mushroom story about the glow in the dark Jack-o-Lantern fungus. One species of  Jack-o-lantern is named Omphalotus illudens.

The name sounds like a Sesame Street character. However, unless you know what you are seeing, suddenly encountering one of these glowing apparitions on a moonless night, in the fall forest, feels nothing like a Sesame Street skit.*

Fairy Rings are act one in a series of amazing fungal characters to come. Go outside often and keep watch.




Another Roadside Attraction
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  1. Suzzane B - Spectacular! You find the most amazing things on your wanderings.

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