I was watching a movie a while back, a dark turn on a milquetoast children’s tale that used fairy rings to foreshadow the appearance of some nasty nymphs. It was … eh, so-so. But I got to thinking about the reality of these “mystic” circles.
First off, mushroom rings aren’t mythological. They’re even pretty common, and have been known to grow in diameters upwards of 30 feet, and for years at a time. But far from a miraculous arrangement of individual fungal growths, the real cause here is not quite so fantastical.
The mushrooms you see above ground are all parts of one organism, connected below ground by the mycelium—a dense mass of stringy hyphae. Think of it like the root system for a tree, but a bit more proactive in how it absorbs nutrients. In fairy rings, the mycelium grows outward, sprouting fruiting bodies (mushrooms) after it rains.
The circle of mushrooms defines the leading edge of the mycelium, which constantly exhausts nutrients inside the ring and expands to find more, releasing enzymes as it goes. Whether or not elves have clandestine moonlight get-togethers around these rings, I couldn’t tell you. But you’ve at least got a new tidbit of info to plunk in your weird facts bucket. —MN