Have you ever come across tiny circles of mushrooms while wandering in your home garden after a rainy day? Well, as kids most of us used to believe them to be fairy circles where fairies gather and have a good chat or else party! Mushroom was “bufo’s one legged stool” in our imaginations and not some fungal structure meant for their reproduction. Even though it is a little bit disappointing for our childhood imaginations, the truth behind these mysterious structures have been explained by science.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi mostly belonging to Phylum Basidiomycota (usually known as mushroom fungi). Fungi are eukaryotic heterotrophs that obtain nutrition by extracellular digestion of decaying plant and animal bodies. Fungal body comprises of a network of hyphae collectively known as mycelium. These Basidiomycetes typically display 3 phases in their life cycle namely primary mycelium, secondary mycelium and tertiary mycelium (which is present only in some and is represented by its fruiting body). Fruiting body consists of a cap and a stipe. The gills in the cap bear club shaped structures known as basidia that are responsible for the production of basidiospores. These exogenous spores after being dispersed, germinate and give rise to a new fungal body.
Many fungi belonging to Basidiomycetes have symbiotic associations with vascular plants known as mycorrhizal associations. And most of them are capable of producing these fruiting bodies which are commonly referred to as “mushrooms”. The underground mycelial network associated with the roots of trees shows primary and secondary mycelial stages of their life cycle. With conditions at their optimum for the formation of tertiary mycelium (usually after a rain /in humid climate), the secondary mycelium will produce fruiting bodies. As the underground mycelium spreads outward in every direction at an even rate mushrooms are formed at the outer edge of this growth in a circular pattern. These circular patterns arrangement shown by mushrooms are the fairy rings we used to refer to as kids. By all the fairy tales and myths it is evident how fascinating the capability of fungi is to produce such peculiar structures.
The next time you see fairy rings make sure to look around carefully. Who knows? Sometimes myths may be real and you might find a fairy or an elf peeking at your yard!
Image courtesy: https://goo.gl/r4avj9