Notoriously tricky to identify, mushrooms share some similarities in shape, size and habitat. But the most important identifier for most is their spore color. So when trying to identify a mushroom accurately, you will need to make a “spore print”. Although mushrooms appear to be mostly shades of brown, you will be surprised to find that the spores come in a range of colors; oranges, reds, purples, yellows, greens, and blacks. It is just a question of finding the right mushroom. That’s when you will discover that spore prints may be a great tool for science, but they also can be unique and beautiful pieces of art.
Mushrooms are fungi. Unlike most “plants” they do not use the sun to make their food, fungi eat dead leaves and wood (organic matter) to fuel themselves. That’s not all that sets them apart. Notoriously tricky to identify, mushrooms share some similarities in structure, size and habitat. But the most important identifier for most mushrooms is their spore color. What is a spore? In order to make more mushrooms, a mushroom will make a tiny spore or seed. These are produced on the undersides of the cap in the gills. When the conditions are right, a mushroom will release the spores from its gills. The spores fall down and are carried away by a breeze. When the spores land, each one produces another mushroom. So when trying to identify a mushroom accurately, you will need to make a “spore print” to determine the spore’s color. Although many mushrooms are dull shades of brown, the spores come in a vast range of colors; olives, oranges and rusts, purples and pinks, yellows, greens, and blacks. It is just a question of finding the right mushroom.That’s when you will discover that spore prints may be a great tool for science, but they also can be unique and beautiful pieces of art.
Here are the steps for making your own spore “art “.
- Select your mushroom, preferably one that is fresh and undamaged
- Decide whether the spore color is light or dark. The color of the gills may give you some clues.
- Select a piece of card, white or black depending on the selection as outlined above. Aluminum foil works well to.
- Remove the stalk from the mushroom and place it gill side down on the piece of card or foil. Place a jar over the top. This helps to keep it moist as well stopping any air movement dispersing the spores.
- While some spore prints can appear within a few hours, it’s often best to wait overnight, just to be sure.
- When you remove the cup and lift the mushroom cap, you should find a “print.” If you have been careful not to move the mushroom you will find that the spore print reflects the pattern of the mushroom’s gills or pores.
- Most mushrooms are harmless but a few can really make you sick, here are a few basic rules to keep you safe ; 1) never taste an unknown mushroom, 2) never lick your hands when handling mushrooms, 3) wash your hands and face thoroughly after handling mushrooms and 4) don’t breath in the spores of unknown mushrooms.
The excerpt above is from learning materials created by Erin Frost for the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society.