"They in their courses make the round,
In meadows and in marshes found,
By them so called the Fairy Ground."
--Michael Drayton (1627)
I have just returned from gathering a bag of Fairy Ring champignons growing on the edge of the woods across from the house. Yesterday's rain has provided the ideal conditions for sprouting mushrooms, so I have harvested a small portion of the bounty that the rains have left. This species grows outward in rings, or sometimes in semicircles, from a round underground mycelium that has the habit of sending out its branching, threadlike filaments or hyphae in a 360-degree radius. Each year, this mycelium advances outward in a ring, which can measure up to 50 feet across. By measuring the rate of advance over the years, botanists have ascertained that certain fairy rings may be from four to six centuries old.
These delicate, ephemeral plants, born of spores not visible to the naked eye, may wither and disappear within a single, summer day, but are kept fruiting by their filaments underground, seeking an ever-widening area of nutrients. In the world of mushrooms, it seems as though the entombed only give up their ghosts in the pallid, visible forms we see for a moment on a sunny day after a shower.
This afternoon, I came upon marasimus oreades growing in a series of interrupted rings. Reflecting on this discovery as one of those stimulating moments of an ordinary day, I took the culls home, pondered the fancied allegory of their brief visibility above ground while rooted to a darker, more enduring force below, and then set them aside on the kitchen table for the true test of their identity. I placed them in a colander, washed them until their beige and lightly ruddy tints glistened, and with an appreciative nod to the woods across the way, fried them in a few drops of oil and consumed their delectable shapes. This moment, for me, trailed back to the past and forward again to that future which is now, and had let me spin freely in the absence of time.
Call this a ritual of summer, if you choose to believe in rituals at all. I do. Such rituals fend against the dark. The subterranean filaments of the Fairy Ring mushrooms are reaching out in ever-larger circles, laying bare the inner ring, which will, in time, encompass me. May all my dark thoughts then be bordered by the lightness of their fruiting bodies?
© John Reismiller
Fairy ring is sometimes caused by the poisonous mushroom Chlorophyllum molybdites. Do not eat any mushroom that appears in the lawn without first having it identified by a competent authority.
Fairy ring can be distructive to lawns. When the hyphae becomes thick, it is almost impossible for water to penetrate the soil. This can cause scorched patches in the lawn. The only safe cure is to dig out the soil containing the hyphae and replace it with new.
About the Author
John Reismiller has lived in the Pinelands of southern New Jersey for almost 50 years in the quiet, little village of Green Bank, N.J. at the edge of the Mullica River. The author says he is a spirited 77 years of age, going on 50. He lives a secluded, but contented, life amidst the flora and fauna of a New Jersey State Forest. John was formerly a teacher and holds graduate degrees in History and Literature. Since leaving the teaching profession he writes poetry, biographical and nature articles and essays for both print and the Internet. His interest is writing, writing and more writing. John Reismiller is a member and contributing writer to The American Violet Society.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org