Art & Science: DIY Mushroom Spore Prints

I’ve always been fascinated by art and plants. Before I had little kids I used to do botanical illustration – the art of painting true to life pictures of plants.

Historically, this type of art was popular before photography was invented as it was the only scientific method of recording plants. Many plants were documented in their entirety all the way from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, berries and seeds. If you look in the old journals from early explorers you will likely find botanical illustrations.

Botanical illustration of mushrooms
Botanical illustration of mushrooms

By having the ability to recognise a plant, a person was able to forward on the knowledge if the plant was edible or poisonous. Mushrooms as a fungi are no different.

One of the methods used to check the edibility of mushrooms was to get a spore print. Although, spore printing should not be the only defining feature to tell whether a mushroom is safe to eat or not. You would need to know about the growing habitat, climate, season and fungi characteristics. See this article about Saffron Milk Caps to find out more about identifying mushroom features.

What Are Mushroom Spores

Mushroom spores are the ‘seeds’ of fungi. Numbering in the tens of thousands on each mushroom, these spores when released become airborne in the hope of finding a suitable growing location.

If the conditions are right the spores first grow as mycelium and then later as a reproductive organ – the mushroom.

Wikipedia: the white threadlike structure of mycelium
Wikipedia: the white threadlike structure of mycelium

Mushroom Spore Prints as Art

Using spore prints to create art is largely untapped as a form of artistic expression.

There is such variety in mushroom spore colour and pattern, not to mention the physical size of the mushroom, that there is much scope for expansion in this genre.

Making spore prints is easy enough for children to do. However, ensure that children do not eat poisonous mushrooms and wash their hands after holding unknown varieties.

Erin Frost: spore print art
Erin Frost: spore print art
Thomas Keyes: spore print art
Thomas Keyes: spore print art

Mushroom Identification Using Spores

Some varieties of mushrooms are so similar in appearance that a spore print is needed to confirm identity. Other times, a spore print is made as part of a checklist of mushroom identification.

Each type of fungi has a different spore type and releases them in unique patterns dependent upon the form of the underside of the mushroom cap.

www.gardenknowhow.com

For example, the edible Wood Blewit mushroom (Lepista nuda) is very similar to the poisonous Cortinarius archerii. Both mushrooms are purple in colour, have gills underneath, are the same size and can be found in similar habitats. Compare the two photos below.

Wood Blewit
Wood Blewit
Cortinarius archerii
Cortinarius archerii

However, you can tell the two varieties apart from their spore prints. The Wood Blewit has a salmon coloured spore print and Cortinarius archerii has a brown spore print.

How to Make a Spore Print

You will need:

  • Mushrooms
  • Paper
  • A container
  1. Collect your mushrooms
We went for a walk in our local parkland and picked these mushrooms. There are edible and poisonous varieties here.
We went for a walk in our local parkland and picked these mushrooms. There are edible and poisonous varieties here.

2. Carefully remove the stems from the mushrooms and discard them.

3. Place a sheet of paper in a location where it won’t be disturbed. If the paper gets bumped whilst you are making a spore print, the print will become smudged.

We've placed ours in a grid pattern on white paper.
We’ve placed ours in a grid pattern on white paper.

4. Place an upside down container over the mushrooms. Prop the container up slightly.

Prop the container slightly.
Prop the container slightly.

5. Wait anywhere from a few hours to overnight.

6. If the spore print is visible, remove the container and carefully lift the mushrooms off the paper.

7. If keeping the spore prints as art or for science, spray with a fixative or hairspray.

It’s that easy!

Our Spore Prints

Dark brown spore print on white paper, likely Agaricus.
Dark brown spore print on white paper, likely Agaricus sp.
Spore print from a mushroom with a sponge like texture, rather than gills underneath, likely Bolete sp.
Spore print from a mushroom with a sponge like texture, rather than gills underneath, likely Bolete sp.
White spore print on white paper, likely Death Cap. (Would look better on a dark coloured paper.)
White spore print on white paper, likely Death Cap. (Would look better on a dark coloured paper.)
The Ink Cap mushroom leaves an interesting inky image rather than a print.
The Ink Cap mushroom leaves an interesting inky image rather than a print.

Whether you are interested in spore prints for art or science, it’s a fascinating yet easy activity to do. All you need to do is pick some mushrooms, get a piece of paper and a container and voila, just like that, you’ll have a spore print!

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