How do Fairy Rings form?

Dr Trevor Dines

Dr Trevor Dines

Plantlife Botanical Specialist

26th October 2017

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Fairy Ring captured by Jane Gazzard

Have you ever seen a fairy ring?

Plantlife supporter Jane and her dog Jed did - a very good one, as it happens - and sent us the photo (above) as evidence.

But what are a fairy rings? And how do they form?

Sadly they are not the work of dancing elves, as European folklore might have it. Instead, they are the result of a single fungus growing in a patch of grassland. Unseen, underground, small threads called mycelium sprout and spread out in a small circle, just a few centimetres across. The next year, the fruiting bodies (that's the toadstools) form at the edges of this circle, and pop up above ground.

Over time, the mycelium depletes nutrients from where it’s been growing, so it tends to grow outwards into “fresh” grass. This advancing edge is where the fruiting bodies appear each year. Eventually, a complete ring is formed as the circle continues to expand.

Fairy rings can be decades old, but if anything disrupts its outward expansion (a mole digging a hole, rocks underground or even a vehicle churning up the grass) then shape of the circle can be disrupted. This can happen quite often, so perfect circles are rare.

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