Spore prints are best made from fresh mushrooms found outdoors. They are a stunning way to observe and study nature. Learn how to gather, print, and preserve these delicate pieces of art.
Mushrooms are fascinating. They are pervasive in folklore and iconography, and evoke feelings that range from unnerving to adorable. I was once intimidated by mushrooms. I didn’t want to touch them and I was scared that my children would eat one. Then I moved to a property that was speckled with hundreds of mushrooms come the end of summer. Every step, we could point out a new variety and it was interesting and frightening and I was drawn in.
I decided that, like many other fears I’ve had in my life, the best way to deal with it is to learn more and study it. One of the first projects I did was taking spore prints because it required me to face my fear and touch them. Now after borrowing many books from the library, exposing myself to the world of mushroom hunting, and strolling our property for mushrooms every night in the late summer, I have a deep respect and mild obsession with these organisms. Let’s learn a bit about them.
Mushrooms are the fruiting body of certain types of fungi. Most of the organism is found below the soil in a network of thin root-like filaments called mycelium. When conditions like temperature and humidity are right, the fugus will produce a mushroom to spread its spores to reproduce.
Spores are very small, on the order of a few microns, which is too small to see with the human eye. (A human hair is around 60-80 microns). Spores can be black or white, cream colored or even green. You can think of a spore as similar to a seed, but the main difference is that while seeds store energy for the new plant to subsist while it grows its roots and leaves, spores do not contain stored energy. Most spores, therefore, will not land in the right conditions to create a new fungus, which is why a mushroom can release around a billion spores per day!
Mushrooms begin to release spores soon after they open, so it is important that you use fresh mushrooms for spore prints. As you may know, some mushrooms are poisonous, so wash your hands after handling mushrooms and do not ingest any parts. If you are uneasy, do a quick google search for poisonous mushrooms in your area and just avoid those that look anything like them, though you should still wash your hands afterwards.
There are a few types of spore-bearing structures on the undersides of mushrooms. Gilled or pored mushrooms work the best for spore prints in my experience. Though it is possible to take spore prints of shelf mushrooms, I have the best results with capped mushrooms.
Since different species have different colored spores, it helps to know what type of mushroom you have and therefore what color spore you will get so you can use a contrasting piece of paper to better visualize the print. There are several apps that can tentatively identify mushrooms (I recommend the Seek app by National Geographic, however I would not use it if I were planning to consume the mushroom), alternatively your local library may have identification books available. After identification, you can search for what color spores the mushroom will yield.
How to Take Spore Prints
- Gather fresh mushrooms from outside.
- Identify the species if possible and look up what color the spores are.
- Gently remove the stipe (stem) of the mushroom by bending or twisting.
- Place the mushroom gill- or pore-side down onto a piece of thick paper that is the contrasting color of the spores.
- Place a droplet of water on top of the mushroom and cover with a glass bowl.
- Wait 4-24 hours before carefully removing the mushroom from the paper. (If you don’t see a print, try waiting longer. If there is no print after 24 hours, the mushroom might have been to old and had already released its spores, or the print might be difficult to see because of the wrong color paper).
- To preserve a print, lightly mist hairspray from a good distance away. Let dry, then spray again. Frame your prints or use for crafting.