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What is a "Fairy Ring"?

Have you ever spotted mushrooms growing in an

obvious circle shape and wondered why?

You spotted what is most commonly referred to as a "fairy ring" or "fairy circle"!

Recently, while out on a coastal hike, Lee and I stumbled upon two gigantic fairy rings growing at the base of a cypress grove! Can you spy me in the center of one of the two rings, below?

What is a "Fairy Ring"?

A "fairy ring" is a naturally occurring circle made of living mushrooms. A single circle, when spotted in the wild, will represent one mushroom species, although many different fungi have the ability to grow in the shape of a fairy ring. Fairy rings can range in size from a few inches to several hundred feet in diameter!

What causes this curious phenomenon?

Fungal mycelium lives fully underground and draws food from soil by secreting enzymes from the ends of its hyphae (or individual mycelial strands), then absorbing the various nutrients that are made available by the enzymes. Mycelium most commonly grows outward from one central point, and as the nutrients at that central point become exhausted, the ring grows larger in search of more food. At the right time of year, when the fungus is prompted to fruit, the boundaries of the mycelium can be seen above ground in the form of a fairy ring!

Where can I see a fairy ring in the wild?

Fairy rings are most commonly visible on lawns, in meadows and pastures, and in open forested areas, typically after heavy rains.

Why call it a "Fairy Ring"?

Cultures across the world, particularly in Europe, have different explanations for this curious scene. Folklore dictates that witches, dragons, evil and well-meaning spirits, and elves were common culprits across nations--but most commonly, dancing fairies were considered the cause.

Photos taken in Fort Bragg, California - January 2024


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