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How To Make a Mushroom Spore Print for Identification

Spore Print Foil

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Mushroom hunting is a beloved pastime for many, but let’s be real – it can also be intimidating.

After all, you don’t want to end up in the hospital, or worse, six feet under because you accidentally chowed down on a poisonous mushroom.

Death Caps

Mushroom Spore Prints

That’s where mushroom spore prints come in! This simple yet effective method of using spores can help you to accurately identify the mushrooms you come across, giving you the confidence to enjoy your foray into the fungal world. You will be able to see the unique characteristics of a mushroom’s spores, which can be a key identifier for different species.

Plus, let’s be honest, there’s something super cool about being able to identify a mushroom just by looking at its spore print. So join us as we delve into the world of mushroom identification and unlock the secrets of the spore print!

Spore Prints

And if you’re making a mushroom spore print for cultivation purposes, check out our article on making mushroom spore prints to preserve spores for cultivation.

Let’s get shroomy!

Mushroom Spore Print Preparations

First, a warning.  When handling unidentified mushrooms, always wear powder-free gloves, since you are not 100% sure of the mushroom species you are dealing with.

Powder Free Gloves

Some species of mushrooms, like Death Caps, are so poisonous that just touching them and then licking your finger can cause illness.  As a rule of thumb, better safe than sorry.

Bringing Mushrooms Home

If you find a mushroom in the woods and want to make a spore print of it, use wax paper to wrap and protect the mushroom. Other materials like cling wrap trap moisture too easily and can trigger a false impression of the spore print.

Your Mushroom Must Be Mature to have Mushroom Spores

Only mature mushrooms have spores, so make sure the ones you pick are ready.

Various mushrooms have different characteristics when mature, but one way to tell a mature mushroom in most species is that they will have no veils.  The veil is a thin membrane that covers the spore-bearing surface while it is still developing.

 Making a Mushroom Spore Print

Once you’ve gotten your mushroom home, all you need to make a spore print is some patience, some white or colored paper depending on the natural color of the spores, and aluminum foil. You will also need a glass slide if you plan to look at your spores under a microscope.

What Kind of Paper Do You Use for the Spore Print?

Most mushrooms have gills, and the gills are where your spores are located.

If the gills are light, try a dark-colored or even a black piece of paper. Lighter-colored mushroom spores will really stand out against black paper.

White Spores on Black Paper

If the gills are dark, try a light-colored or white piece of paper. Darker mushroom spores will really stand out on white paper.

Black Spores on White Paper

If you aren’t certain of the color, half of the mushroom cap can go on dark paper and half on light paper.

Mushrooms with Gills

To make spore prints of mushrooms with gills, follow these steps:

  1. Cut the stalk at the closest point to the mushroom cap that you can without touching the gills. Use a sterilized tool, like a scalpel or a sharp knife, and lay the mushroom cap gill side down on your preferred surface.To help the mushroom release its spores, put a drop of water on top of the cap, and don’t overdo it!
  2. Cover your mushroom with a glass or container as this will help to keep it from drying out while eliminating air flow. The glass will also prevent any potential toxicology effect. To keep the printing process dry, you can use DampRid crystals to suck up any excess moisture.
  3. Depending on the freshness of the mushroom and the humidity of the enclosed area, your mushroom should release millions of spores onto the paper in 4 to 8 hours. You may also want to leave it overnight to ensure enough spores have fallen.

You now have a mushroom spore print!

Mushrooms Without Gills

Some mushrooms do not have gills. For example, polypores have pores instead of gills. So making spore prints from polypores that are growing on trees and logs can be tricky.

Polypore Mushrooms -- Reishis

These hard polypores take longer to mature before producing their spores. To ensure your prints reflect the size and shape of harder polypores, try wrapping the fungus overnight in wet paper towels or newspapers before placing them down onto your preferred surface.

Remember that the spore-bearing surface always faces downwards as it grows!

Interpreting Your Spore Print

Now that you’ve made your spore print, it’s time to interpret it. Take a close look at the spores and see what color they are – different mushroom species will produce different colored spore prints, so this can be a key identifier.

And then compare the spores in your spore print to the ones in your guidebook.

For example, some mushroom species like the Orange Peel Fungus or the Death Cap produce white spores, while others can produce brown, tan, orange, olive, pink, black, or even purple spores.

So if you come across a mushroom with white spores, you can narrow your identification options to mushrooms that also produce white spores.

The colors and the shape of the sports print will give you all kinds of information, and before long you will have honed in on the right mushroom type. It’s like a fungal fingerprint!

Save Some Pictures of Your Mushrooms and Spore Prints

Don’t forget to snap a pic for reference! Trust us, you’ll thank yourself later when you’re trying to remember that one mushroom you saw on your hike last week.

So go ahead and bust out your phone and snap a pic for the ‘gram (or just for your personal mushroom identification library).

Either way, having a visual reference can be a huge help in accurately identifying your mushroom.

Brown Mushroom

Spore Print Examples

Here are some examples of edible mushrooms that can be identified with the help of a spore print.

The Agaricus species are a family of fungi that includes the much-loved meadow mushroom. Its spore print is typically dark brown to black. Enjoyed by humans since the dawn of time, this tasty mushroom can be found growing wild in sunnier climates.

The Boletus species includes a few edible mushrooms like the delicious porcini. Their spore print is usually dark brown to purple and is often a key to confirming the identity of a mushroom.

The spore print of the delicious saffron milk-cap mushroom is typically whitish to pale orange. If you’re lucky enough to find the saffron milk cap, it can bring an added zing to any meal or recipe.

How Long Can a Spore Print Last?

Mushroom spore prints can last for a year or even longer if stored properly. This is especially important to know if you ever have intentions to grow mushrooms from your spores. Be sure to keep your spore prints away from direct sunlight, or any other sources of heat. And make sure that they are stored in a dry place.

More Spore Print Resources

There are plenty of resources out there to help you determine the species of your mushroom based on its spore print. One option is to consult a mushroom identification guide – these handy books often have color photos and descriptions of different mushroom species, including spore print colors.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, consider consulting an expert – there are plenty of mushroom enthusiasts out there who would be happy to help you identify your mushroom based on its spore print. Just be sure to do your research and make sure you’re consulting a reliable source. The North American Mycological Association is a club for mushroom aficionados. They have chapters across the US, Canada, and Mexico.

And always carry a good field guide when you are looking for mushrooms. We are currently recommending Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms.

Two excellent mushroom field guides — if you can find them — are Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America and the National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.  Both are out of print, but you may be able to find a used copy on Amazon.

Remember, always err on the side of caution when it comes to mushroom identification – if you’re unsure, it’s better to leave it be than risk accidentally consuming a poisonous mushroom.

Wrapping It Up

So the next time you’re out mushroom hunting, don’t be afraid to get a little spore-tacular and make some spore prints to help you on your identification journey.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Mushroom Foraging for more information on foraging for and identifying mushrooms.

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