Find a wood near you
Search thousands of woods across the UK and gather information on the local facilities, features, wildlife and history in the area.Find a wood
Have you ever stumbled across a perfect circle of mushrooms growing among the woodland floor? If so, you’ve discovered a fairy ring. Read on to find out all about this strange yet somewhat magical phenomenon.
Fairy rings, which are also known as elf rings or pixie rings, are naturally occurring circles made up of mushrooms. The mushrooms grow out of the ground in a circle shape, and some are small in size while others can grow up to 600 metres in diameter.
Credit: Yon Marsh Natural History / Alamy Stock Photo
Fairy rings are caused by an individual fungus growing underground. The fungus sprouts lots of small threads, called mycelium, in a circular shape. A year later, the mushrooms pop up out of the ground at the edge of the circle, creating the fairy ring. The circle will start off small in size, getting bigger as it gets older.
Fairy rings are most commonly found in woodland and grassy areas. The best time of year to see them is late summer to early autumn, and they are more likely to appear after wet weather.
Different countries across Europe have their own folklore tales about fairy rings. In English and Celtic folklore, fairy rings were caused by fairies or elves dancing in a circle. It was said that if humans joined in the dance they would be punished by the fairies, and made to dance in the ring until they passed out from exhaustion.
In German folklore, things took a more sinister turn, as fairy rings were actually known as witches’ rings. It was believed they were the place where witches would dance on Walpurgis Night, a spring celebration taking place exactly six months before Halloween.
Credit: Arco Images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
In Austrian mythology, dragons were to blame for the appearance of fairy rings. It was said they burned them into the forest floor with their fiery tails.
There are lots more mythical stories surrounding fairy rings. Some cultures believe that they are portals to another world, while others say that the mushrooms are simply used as dinner tables for fairies. There is also the belief that they bring good luck and that they are a sign of a fairy village underground. Another folklore story is that you should never step into a fairy ring, as you may become invisible or become trapped there forever.
Whatever you believe about fairy rings, they are definitely an exciting discovery if you ever stumble upon one in the woods. Just make sure you don’t touch the mushrooms, as some can be poisonous.
Trees woods and wildlife
A dazzling array of shapes, sizes and colours. Find out about fungi and lichens, from ancient taboos to magic and medicine.
Trees woods and wildlife
Find out all about fly agaric, the ultimate fairy-tale mushroom, from where it grows to how it's used.