The Gentleman's Magazine/Volume 253/July 1882/Fairy Rings


You demi-puppets, that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites.

SCIENCE has been scarcely more explicit than Shakespeare concerning the identification of these mysterious demi-puppets, although many attempts at explanation have been made. In spite of this, I have a theory of my own, which, halting though it be, I here expound.

I occupied during a few years a house on the slope of the Hope Mountain, near Caergwrle, in Flintshire. The house is named "Celyn" in the Ordnance maps. It commands a fine view of the Alyn valley and country beyond. The most conspicuous of the pasture fields displayed below had no fairy rings during the first and second years of my residence in the Celyn; but on the third a large crop of them came into existence. They were arranged in orderly rows, and so conspicuous that they forced themselves continuously on my attention—were, in fact, almost irritating by their persistent appeals for explanation. They worried me thus every day from the September of one year to the July of the next, excepting when the snow was on the ground.

I walked down frequently to the field and examined the troublesome things, finding them always the same—viz., nearly true circles, and composed of coarser grass than that surrounding them, and at times with a crop of small fungi dotted over them. They varied very little in size, were about six feet in diameter—too small to have been the track of any tethered animal—but they evidently had received some kind of special manuring.

Suddenly, on one bright July morning, the mystery was solved. A crop of grass had been mowed, tossed, and winnowed, and was now in cocks ready for carrying to the stack. The circumference of the base of these cocks corresponded almost accurately with that of the fairy rings; their numbers and arrangements were nearly identical; some of the cocks actually covered the area enclosed by the ringlets of the demi-puppets.

Then I remembered the history of the last year's harvest on that particular field. A weary continuance of drenching rain commenced just when the grass was cocked as now, and it remained thus on the ground for several weeks, until almost black with fungoid rotting. Here, then, was the explanation. The juices of the rotting grass had been washed down the slopes of the cocks, and with these juices were the fungus germs that "soured" the ground.

There would thus be effected a sort of special or differential manuring of circles, having outside diameters corresponding to that of the base of the cocks, and a thickness of ring equal to the depth of penetration and drainage of the rain.

The last year's history of this field was impressed on my memory by a small triumph of dilettante science applied to agriculture. My own grass was cut at the same time as the grass of this opposite field, and both were cocked on Friday in splendid weather; but I had observed a steady fall of the barometer, and accordingly employed extra hands, and made a great bustle to get my hay carried on Saturday—worked till midnight—thereby amusing considerably my neighbours who were professional farmers. The fine weather continued through Saturday and on till Sunday night, when the rain began and continued, with the disastrous results above described.

I hope this Note may induce others to repeat my observation by looking for these fairy rings, and, when they find them, enquiring whether any kind of heap of vegetable matter formerly occupied the area included within their circuit.