Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades)

The Fairy Ring champignon or Scotch Bonnet mushroom (Marasmius oreades) – in classic French cookery referred to as mousseron, isn’t as famous as some of the other mushrooms described in this book, but appears to be widely distributed across South Africa. Known for growing in ranks and arc-shaped formations on grassy areas, Fairy Ring champignons can readily be found at farmers markets across central, southern and eastern Europe during season, where the trade is reliant on wild-harvesting.

There are many groundskeepers and landscapers who will know Marasmius oreades well – not for their culinary potential but rather this fungi’s reputation as a pest: its mycelium has the ability to disfigure lawns, fields, golf courses and pitches, disfiguring the turf and leaving circular brown patches as well as ring-like formations in its wake. Quick-fixes to this fungus problem exist in abundance online, specialised fungicides are often deployed in these places in an attempt to kill the mycelium. Often it works, but spores spread from the fruiting bodies in previous seasons would have ensured local spread. It is an urbanised species originally from the grasslands, benefitting from our own expansion and the pastures, green belts and fertilised lawns which have come along with it.

Fairy ring champignons (Marasmius oreades). © Beverley Klein

North American mycologist David Arora describes Fair Ring champignons as being veil-less and scale-less, without freckle, speckle or spine. There are other nondescript, but dangerous, LBMs out there which can share the same habitat of grassland so special attention should be paid to separating features. From above, M. oreades has a sandy-brown or butterscotch colouration, sometimes it can appear lighter especially when mature, and the cap shape is initially convex or bell-shaped, flattening with a nipple-shaped umbo which can be slightly darker than the rest of the cap. The hygrophanous colouration on the surface is a feature to look for. Underneath, you’ll find creamy-white and widely-spaced, almost wrinkled-like gills that are free from the stipe – which is fibrous and doesn’t snap easily. The mushroom has a mild and sweet aroma, faint and similar to a peach pit or bitter almonds. When a dozen or more specimens are collected in a bag together, the aroma is more pronounced.