Since I ceased reading bedtime stories to my grandchildren years ago, fairies have escaped my attention … until recently when fairies popped up in two places. The first was a ring of mushrooms in my lawn.
The mushroom ring materialized sometime between Oct. 18 when I drove my truck past to the shed to load winter tires, and Oct. 31 when I noticed the ring on my way to empty kitchen compost. This is the first time I’ve ever seen more than a single random mushroom anywhere in my yard. I loaded batteries into my camera to snap a couple shots of this phenomenon.
Made up of 82 brownish mushrooms from nubs to the largest with a diameter of six inches, some in clumps of 13,the perfectly circular ring spans 12 feet across.
In the Middle Ages, it was believed these mushroom rings formed a path for dancing fairies.
Encyclopedia Britannica offers this explanation:
“Fairy rings are naturally occurring circular rings of mushrooms on a lawn or other location. A fairy ring starts when the mycelium (spawn) of a mushroom falls in a favourable spot and sends out a subterranean network of fine, tubular threads called hyphae. The hyphae grow out from the spore evenly in all directions, forming a circular mat of underground hyphae threads. The mushrooms that grow up from this circular underground mat form a similar pattern above ground. Gradually the underground mycelium at the centre of the circle dies out. Its living outer edges, however, keep growing year by year, and hence the diameter of the ring gradually increases. Over time the ring’s underground segments die out, until the ring form on the surface can no longer be discerned.”
“The fairy rings commonly formed by the field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) often measure about 6 feet in diameter. Marasmius oreades, which is commonly known as the fairy ring mushroom, forms very large but irregular rings that may attain a diameter of 1,200 feet. (By then, this ring will be encroaching on several neighbours’ property.)
It is believed that the fruiting bodies of the Marasmius oreades produce a growth-stimulating substance that causes the surrounding grass to grow more luxuriantly. (Oh, goody. Extra mowing ahead next spring.) Another possible explanation is that the advancing mycelium attacks proteins and other nitrogenous substances in the soil, converting them into nitrates and ammonia for its own use; the excess nutrient substances are absorbed by the roots of grass plants in the immediate area.
An internet explanation says these rings occur following a dry spell, near a dead tree. I’m not aware of any tree growing close to this location in the past 46 years.
My second encounter with fairies arose when I watched a Netflix movie, “Oddball”, a true conservation story involving a maremma dog owned by an Australian chicken farmer. Maremmas are an Italian breed of livestock guardian dogs. Oddball opted to protect an injured penguin chick despite its odour of rotting fish. That led to him living on nearby Middle Island guarding Australia’s dwindling population of fairy penguins.
The ocean had kept these small flightless birds safe from mainland foxes until currents built a sediment bridge letting foxes invade the island. The birds are defenceless against foxes though they use their sturdy beaks to gouge nests in the sand and their heavy-boned wings like baseball bats to batter enemy penguins, such as mate stealers.
Before Oddball moved in, the island’s penguin population had plummeted from 900 to nine. Three maremmas have helped restore the island’s fragile population to several hundred.