Mushrooms and Fungus

Mushroom Circles or Fairy Rings What Are They?

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Fairy ring or mushroom circle (Photo: Flicker Sharing, Unukorono)

Magic or Mundane?

One of the magic parts of summer, for me, is the appearance of mushroom circles and lightening bugs. Fairy rings have captured imaginations around the world, and they are found in folklore from Scandinavia to Europe and North America.  They're even included in  fairy tales called "The Fairy Ring: A Collection of Tales and Traditions" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1857).

There's some neat biology around mushroom circles (also called elf circles or pixie rings), but it makes them no less magical. So let's dive into to explore what is known about them.

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Are Mushrooms Good For You? Facts and Fiction

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"Chicken of the Woods," and edible fungus (Photo: Karen McDonald)

What Are the Benefits of Eating Mushrooms?

While taking a hike through the woods yesterday I noticed that there was a beautiful abundance of wild mushrooms in all shapes, colors, and sizes scattered along the trail. There's one in particular, with a round dusty red cup and white underside that the squirrels and turtles seem to particularly like, while they leave all the others alone. This started me thinking about the nutritional role of mushrooms and what if anything they can contribute to a person's diet. Are mushrooms good for you? I always thought they were little more than "fluff" or extra stuff in a meal that add a bit of texture, so I started to do a little digging.

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Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

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This time of year it's common to come across the "fruiting bodies" of fungus, from giant puff ball mushrooms to beautiful shelf fungus. One of the most common types of shelf fungus you'll see are Laetiporus sulphureus mushrooms, often called "chicken of the woods" or "chicken fungus." They are edible fungus with bright yellow-orange coloration and a white edge. You can be sure of your identification if the underside of the fungus doesn't have gills, but small pores. Of course the usual cautions apply, make sure you know it is truly edible before you eat it! The brackets of these fungi can be up to about 5" each and collectively they can weigh several pounds. The younger the fungus the more yellow it is. As the fungi age they turn more whitish. The softer and more yellow the fungus the better it is for eating!

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