BEWARE: Don’t Walk Through Mushroom Fairy Rings

PHOTO: Fairy Rings, courtesy of Sarah Kirby, Wythe Co., Virginia
PHOTO: Fairy Rings, courtesy of Sarah Kirby, Wythe Co., Virginia

Walking outside of one’s house in the morning to be greeted by the unexpected sight of a symmetrical circle of mushrooms that appeared overnight can be a hair-raising experience that leaves many questions.

Surprisingly, this phenomena is actually far more common than one might think and is the subject of mountain lore dating back ages.

Known as “Fairy Rings” and “Elf Circles”, these circular groupings of mushrooms have grown to reach a diameter of roughly half a mile and one in Belfort, France, is believed to be over 700 years old.

Though they are formed mainly in forested areas, they sometimes appear in grassy places and are made when mycelium of a fungus growing in the ground absorbs nutrients. This breaks down larger molecules in the soil into smaller molecules that are then absorbed through the walls of the hyphae near their growing tips. The mycelium will move outward from the center, and when the nutrients in the center are exhausted, the center dies, thereby forming a living ring, from which the fairy ring arises.

PHOTO: Fairy ring in European forest, courtesy of Josimda
PHOTO: Fairy ring in mountain forest, courtesy of Josimda

Appalachian, as well as ancient folklore is riddled with mentions of fairy rings, which are also known as “sorcerers’ rings” in France and “witches’ rings” in German tradition, both of which believe appear on the sites of where witches danced the previous night.

Western European traditions, including English, Scandinavian and Celtic, claimed that fairy rings are the result of elves or fairies dancing.

Early Appalachian settlers believed that fairy rings were dangerous places that should be avoided, stating that trespassing into the forbidden ring could end in great curses upon the encroacher.

Welsh tradition teaches that fairies force mortals into the ring in hopes of dancing with them, but once the person steps foot inside the ring, the person’s life will be cut premature with exhaustion, death, or madness.

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