Our reserves are magical places for the bush kids who get to spend their formative years out on them. Yourka Reserve in far north Queensland is no exception, especially during the wet season when the property is literally humming with life in a dramatic response to monsoonal rain.
“Mum, I found a fairy ring!” Macey squealed with delight as she ran up onto the veranda of the new Yourka house.
For a nine-year-old girl, finding a fairy ring is the ecological equivalent of rediscovering the Night Parrot.
Macey, well-read in fairy literature, instantly recognised the fabled formation during one of the Hales kids’ regular explorative missions around the billabongs just below the Yourka shed.
In a flurry of excitement, I was dragged (rescued) from my job of constructing flat-pack office furniture (thank goodness!) to confirm Macey’s find and, sure enough, there it was – an enchanting ring of mushrooms about 1.5m in diameter, just beside the track around Long Billabong.
It was clearly a place where woodland fairies would meet for dancing and other revelry.
According to Encyclopedia Britanicca, 'fairy rings' are “a naturally occurring circular ring of mushrooms on a lawn or other location, commonly forests. A fairy ring starts when the mycelium (spawn) of a mushroom falls in a favourable spot and sends out a subterranean network of fine, tubular threads called hyphae. The hyphae grow out from the spore evenly in all directions” (like spokes radiating from the hub of a wheel). The part of the fungus that we see – the mushrooms – spring up at the edge of the circle.
We learned that scientists can measure the advance of a fungus from the increasing size of a fairy ring – so they can figure out when the ring started to grow.
Some fairy rings have been found that may have been growing for hundreds of years.
We spent the rest of the weekend on a mushroom hunt and found many, in all glorious shapes and sizes including one whopper whose cap measured 26cm in diameter. Using a field guide that was generously gifted to the reserve by some Bush Heritage supporters we were able to identify a couple, but others remained a beautiful mystery.
Lucky for us, there's going to be a series of workshops on the Tablelands next month, run by members of the Mycological Society and other local experts. Bush Heritage Supporter, Dr Frances Guard, kindly tipped me off to this excellent learning opportunity and I’ve signed up for a session on how to photograph and identify fungi. Macey has decided to tag along.
In the meantime though, Macey’s next mission is to find those fairies – they're certain to be a remarkable addition to the Yourka species list!