Mycologists, foragers, and cultivators must know many skills to explore the fungi world fully. Some involve advanced skills, but there are others — like learning how to make a mushroom spore print — that comes a little easier.
Mushrooms produce spores as a way to propagate. A shower of spores falling onto a substrate eventually becomes mycelium which grows into the fruiting body (the part we use for food or functional wellness).
If you’re interested in mushroom cultivation, identifying different types of mushrooms, or creating shroom-inspired art, spore prints are something you’ll want to know how to make.
Maybe you’ve discovered the beauty of spore prints from viral TikTok videos or want to identify and grow your own mushrooms from this material. Whatever your purpose, it’s essential first to know what a spore print is.
Luckily, it’s simple: spore prints are exactly what they sound like! According to mushroom farmers Freshcap, these prints are a method for capturing spores from a mushroom cap.
Spores collect on the underside of the cap of mature mushrooms. In natural conditions, a drop of rain, a shake of the fruiting body, or air currents cause the spores to spread and begin the life cycle life.
Outside the natural world, you can use pieces of paper or foil to catch the fungal spores. They leave an imprint on the surface of your chosen material, which you can then use for a few different purposes.
There are plenty of reasons to make spore prints. For example, if you’ve discovered wild mushrooms, you can use the spore print of a collected sample to identify what you’ve found.
This biomaterial is so tiny that the color of the spore is the only trait we can see with our eyes. Foragers studying spore prints can use their different colors to identify various mushrooms.
However, we all see color a little differently. The color of the spores should always be used in conjunction with other physical identifiers — never just by itself. Oyster mushrooms have white spores- but so do death caps.
Spores are like seeds; they contain a significant part of the biological material needed to reproduce a shroom.
So, another use for these prints is to gather and store the material necessary for farming the complete life cycle of a fungus.
Finally, shroom spore prints make fantastic art pieces. Gilled mushrooms and mushrooms with pores have different print patterns, even within their own classes. Every mushroom is unique, so think of these as individual thumbprints — no two are alike!
Creating a mushroom print is incredibly easy for many common mushrooms. Unfortunately, not for all.
Some mushrooms, such as polypores, take a long time to develop spores. Others, like morels, make finding the fertile end challenging. For this guide, we’re covering gilled and pore mushrooms.
Choose the fruiting body you want to make a mushroom spore print. Don your gloves
Use a sharp and sterilized knife to cut the stem as high as possible without touching or damaging the gills.
Place the mushroom fertile-side down on a piece of paper. Use black paper if you’re expecting light-colored spores and white paper if printing dark-colored spores. If you’re hoping to germinate the spore print, use aluminum foil. It’s more sterile and will be easier to collect later.
Some experts recommend that sterilized water be dropped onto the cap to expedite the release of spores. It’s not necessary nor guaranteed to make things go quicker.
We recommend using a syringe or a slight drop from your fingertip if you choose to do this step.
With your mushroom cap placed spore side down on the paper, place a glass bowl or cup over the top to keep any air current from disrupting the print.
Now, leave your print alone. Give the spores some time to fall, and check back after 6 to 12 hours.
Freshcap insists that there’s no need to refrigerate if you’re making a spore print for cultivation. Instead, you must carefully fold over the unprinted corners of your material and stash the foil or paper in a tight Ziplock bag.
According to these mushroom farmers, spore prints can last up to 10 years in this method.
For preserving and displaying prints as art pieces, you’ll want to have some hair spray or clear artist’s lacquer on hand. Cover the prints with a light mist. (Emphasis on the light — a full pressured blast can smudge the spores.)
Choose a frame and hang it up. This is nature’s (and your) masterpiece.
Art and identification aside, the most prominent use of spore prints is for the future cultivation of mushrooms. While varieties like boletes and chanterelles resist nearly all attempts at cultivation, most shrooms can be fostered from a print using three methods (via Milkwood). These methods include:
It’s a fairly intensive process requiring things like agar paper, Petri dishes, and scalpels. Paul Stamets details this process descriptively in the book “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms.”
Besides fresh shrooms, Mushrooms Online reports that it is possible to make a mushroom spore print dried varieties.
You’ll need to verify a few things, such as whether the shrooms were heated more than 120 F, and the temperature where spores degrade. Additionally, you’ll have to ensure that the dried shrooms in question have intact and mature reproductive tissue and that they did not undergo chemical or preservative treatment that would damage the ability to germinate.
After you’ve verified all of that, the process is very complicated and takes an experienced hand.
One of the most beautiful things about fungi is their ability to serve multiple functional purposes. It only makes sense that a physical imprint of a mushroom’s essence would have the same capacity.
The world of mushroom crafts is ever-expanding, and I’m glad this has so much potential.