Fairy ring of mushrooms forms at Riverside Cemetery

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ For decades, Riverside Cemetery has been the target of tales of the supernatural: cursed chairs, ghost sightings and other paranormal activity. This week, its general manager Dorie Tammen spotted a fairy ring of mushrooms growing in the Oakhill section of the cemetery, adding a new tale to the collection.

For decades, Riverside Cemetery has been the target of tales of the supernatural: cursed chairs, ghost sightings and other paranormal activity. This week, its general manager Dorie Tammen spotted a fairy ring of mushrooms growing in the Oakhill section of the cemetery, adding a new tale to the collection.

As soon as Tammen saw the circle she posted a photo of it to the cemetery’s Facebook page, which started a dialogue about the various beliefs about these rings. According to European folklore, mushroom rings mark the space where elves, fairies or pixies dance and play, using the mushrooms as stools in which to rest after an evening of merriment. Whenever a human would step inside the ring, the person would either be sucked into the land of the fairies or encounter bad luck and doom.

One of the largest fairy rings ever documented is located in Belfort, France. It is 700 years old and 2,000 feet in diameter.

In actuality, what gives fairy rings their magic appearance occurs beneath the surface, when a mushroom spore grows a mycelium (vegetative part of a fungus) and spreads out an underground network of fine, tubular threads known as hyphae. Mushroom caps then develop at the edges and expand outward.

“Fairy ring fungi do not attack grass directly, but break down organic matter in the soil,” according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. “As a result, nitrogen is released which the grass uses, causing it to grow and develop a contrasting green ring. Mycelia may also deplete soil nutrients and produce toxic levels of hydrogen cyanide. The mushrooms that appear after rainfall are the fruiting bodies of the fungus.”

“It’s a fun, mystical thing to have at the cemetery. I haven’t seen one here like this before,” Tammen said.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com