How To Make A Spore Print
How To Make A Mushroom Spore Print

About Spore Prints
Making a spore print is definitely not rocket science, so give it a try! On a mature mushroom, many thousands of spores grow on just one gill or on a small piece of a mushroom.  A spore is a walled, single- to many-celled, reproductive body of an organism, capable of giving rise to a new individual either directly or indirectly. Mushroom spores are very small and can only be seen individually with a microscope.

Mushroom's spores, seen en masse, is a crucial identification feature. If you have ever noticed colored dust covering a leaf or the ground beneath a mushroom's gills or pores, you have probably witnessed this phenomenon. Tightly clustered mushrooms, in fact, frequently leave spore prints on one other, since caps overlap.

Mushroom spore colorss can range from white to many other shades, including black. For us, obtaining a mushroom's "spore print" is an essential step in the identification process.

The color of the spore print is what you will compare with descriptions from field guides and keys. Interpreting color can be very subjective. Mycologists have tried several times to "standardize" the interpretations, without much success. But while subtle differences (like, between "white" and "creamy") may be perplexing, distinguishing a white spore print from a brown one or a pink one is easy enough, and it will help you enormously in identifying a mushroom.

In order to make a spore print at home, you will need to have a relatively mature mushroom. Buttons, young mushrooms, and mushrooms with some kind of a covering over their gills or pores (a veil) are not likely to drop spores in order to make a print. You can remove the stem from smaller mushrooms and place the cap, gills or pores downward, on a piece of paper or glass, or a microscope slide if you're going to be observing them under a microscope. For larger mushrooms, you can slice off a section of the cap and use only the section. After all, what you're looking for in terms of identifying a mushroom is the spore color. Be sure to place a cup or glass upside-down on top of your mushroom, to keep any air currents away.

If you're careful not to move the mushroom while the print develops, you may find that the spore print reflects the pattern of the mushroom's gills or pores, since the spores fall directly downward. Some people save the prints to use as "spore print art"! See more on preserving your spore print below.

Make Spore Prints Using Different Types Of Mushrooms
Mushrooms With Gills:
The spores lie on the gill surface. Cut off the stem and place the cap, with the gills facing down, on a piece of aluminum foil, a white piece of paper, an index card or a piece of glass. Cover the cap with a paper cup or glass and leave for 2-24 hours, depending on the humidity and the freshness of the mushroom. The spores will fall on the paper, foil or glass, making a spore print pattern. If you have only one specimen to study, you can just use a portion of the cap.

If you don't want to separate the cap from the stem, make a hole in an index card, place the card on a paper cup and slide the stem of the mushroom through the hole until the underside of the cap is resting on the card; then proceed as above.

When collecting in the field or woods, you can take along some sheets of aluminum foil in your collecting basket, place the mushroom cap on the foil, and enclose it, together with the rest of the mushroom, in the foil. You might have a spore print when you return home or to your school.

Mushrooms With Pores:
If the mushroom has a stem and is soft and fresh, such as a bolete, the spores will be inside the pores underneath the cap. A spore print can be made in the same way as for a gilled mushroom. Your spore deposit will reflect the size and shape of the pores.

If the mushroom is hard, it is more difficult to obtain spore prints from polypores growing on trees or logs. Some polypores take a long time to mature and produce spores. Also, the mushrooms can often live a long time after they produce and disperse their spores. Try wrapping them in wet paper towels or newspapers overnight before putting them down on foil, paper or glass to make a spore print. Note that the spore bearing surface always faces down toward the ground as the polypore grows.

Mushrooms That Have Other Forms:
There are many other forms of mushrooms such as morels, hydnums, corals, puffballs and birds nests, to name just a few. If you find these different mushrooms, experiment or consult a mushroom book to locate the spores.

To study the spores with a microscope: Scrape off some of the spores from your spore print with a needle or scalpel, and place the spores on a microscope slide. Place a drop of water on the spores and cover with a cover slip.

Preserve Your Spore Print
Spore prints can be preserved on paper or foil by spraying them lightly with an artist spray. Hair spray works well, too!

Caution: Hold the spray at least 12 to 15 inches above the print or you may blast the spores right off the paper!

Credit For Content:
Sandy Sheine and Maggie Rogers - North American Mycological Association
Copyright 2019-20
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