Fairy Ring Mushroom
(Marasmius oreades)

From THE WILD VEGAN COOKBOOK

Fairy Dancing
Fairy Ring Mushroom sculpture

Fairy Ring Mushroom

sculpture, acrylic paint

There are only a few great springtime mushrooms, and this is one of them. Its cap is 3/8 inch to 1 5/8 inches across, bell-shaped to convex, beige, with a knob on top.

Fairy Ring Mushrooms

Fairy Ring Mushrooms

These mushrooms usually grow clustered.

Underneath the cap are broad whitish gills, usually free from the stem, sometimes attached. Unlike similar-looking mushrooms or fairy rings, there's always quite a bit of space between the gills.

The gills are also forked; that is, they branch, so that some of the gills don't extend from the edge of the cap all the way to the stem.

Fairy Ring Mushroom from Below

Fairy Ring Mushroom, from below

Note the broad, white gills, distant from each other, many of which extend only partially from the cap edge toward the stem.

The spore print is white.

The straight, dry, rubbery stalk is 3/8 inch to 3 inches long.

Fairy Ring Mushroom, from side

Fairy Ring Mushroom, side view

Note the straight, dry, white stalk.

The fairy ring mushroom grows on lawns, where the fungus decomposes organic matter. It often grows in a configuration called a fairy ring: a spore germinates, and a fungus grows. When it uses up its food supply, decaying organic material in the soil, it dies there. But there's more decomposing material at the periphery of the fungus' position, so it continues to grow there, forming an ever-expanding ring (some of which — those with very shallow angles — may be hundreds of years old).

When the fungus creates mushrooms, the mushrooms come up in a ring. And because of the uptake of nutrients by the fungus, the grass above the ring barely grows. And when the fungus dies, it fertilizes the soil, and the grass inside the ring is greener and more lush.

Fairy Ring Mushrooms

Fairy Ring Mushrooms in a Fairy Ring

Note that the mushrooms don't form a perfect circle.

Fairy Ring

Fairy Ring

Before people understood fungi, they thought that fairies had danced in a ring during the night, producing a ring of mushrooms the next morning.

You can find the fairy ring mushroom throughout North America in the spring and summer.

Although no poisonous mushrooms have the exact same features as the fairy ring mushroom, it's not hard for unsupervised beginners to confuse the fairy ring mushroom with toxic mushrooms growing in the same habitat.

Fairy ring mushrooms are small but very tasty. Try the caps sautéed in olive oil with garlic (the stems are too tough for anything but making stock). And you can stretch your supply by letting the mushroom suffuse its excellence into other ingredients in a soup, stew, or stuffing. Unlike most other species of mushrooms, if you dehydrate this mushroom (or find it dehydrated) and soak it in water, it revives completely within minutes.