A spore print is kind of like our fingerprint, in that you can use it to identify the mushroom that made it. Additionally, you can actually grow more mushrooms using the spore print, unlike our fingerprints (although, give it a few years, who knows?) You can make a spore print from a mushroom you have foraged, or from one you have grown yourself from a magic mushroom grow kit.

As long as you make and store your spore print correctly, it can last a long time. You can use it to grow mushrooms after your original cultivated crop has long since dried up, or you could even gift it to a friend who deserves your finest shroom offspring. 

In this article we are going to explain step-by-step how you can make a spore print, and the best way to store them.

What is a Spore?

First things first: what is a spore? As we briefly explained above, a spore is like the mushroom version of a seed. They are the primary reproductive unit for mushrooms, and fungi in general. Spores are the principle method that fungi are distributed. They are released from the gills of the fungi to be caught on the wind, lodged in a passing fox’s fur, or carried off in the tread of a hiker’s boot. Unlike seeds, which are composed of many cells, and have two parent plants, spores are single haploid cells, with just one fungi parent. Spores weigh almost nothing — and are incredibly tough and durable — sometimes finding themselves at high altitudes, or even (temporarily) inside the guts of animals. 

Despite their indomitability, even when they hit the ground, spores don’t have it easy. The likelihood that they will land in a suitable substrate to germinate in, that is not already inhabited by another fungus, is pretty low. Even if they manage this, they still have to find a genetically compatible sexual partner, form a dikaryotic mycelium, produce mushrooms, then new spores, so the whole process can begin again. To make up for all the things that have to go right for this to happen, each mushroom produces millions of spores. They’ve got to hedge their bets! 

Psilocybe tampanensis spores (via Wikimedia Commons)

Why Make a Spore Print?

A spore print is made when spores are ejected from the mushroom cap and accumulate on a surface. They offer a variety of different methods of propagation. These include making a spore syringe for use in PF Tek, washing the spores in water and spreading them across a suitable substrate, or for the expert cultivator, adding the spores to a Petri dish full of agar jelly. If you have just started mushroom foraging it is good practice to make spore prints to help you to identify the shrooms you have found. Or, if you have grown a crop via PF Tek or a grow kit, taking a spore print is wise for the posterity of your mushrooms, and also a badge of honor — you did it! You grew shrooms!

You may have noticed the stains caused by spores when you have left mushrooms on a random surface like a paper bag, or even a wooden board. A spore print is just a slightly more formal version of this — the mushrooms want to make their mark — you just need to follow some steps, and gather a few items to make a spore print for yourself. 

How to Make a Spore Print

What You Will Need:

  • Magic mushrooms
  • Aluminum foil
  • Alcohol/methylated spirits
  • A drinking glass or bowl (one per print)
  • Scalpel/sharp knife
  • Cloth
  • Zip-lock bag
  • Lighter 

Making a spore print is relatively straightforward. The main thing is correctly following a few simple (but important!) rules. Firstly, cleanliness is key here. You want to do everything possible to minimize contamination from bacteria or other fungi spores. Even the most experienced cultivators struggle with contamination, so staying clean from the beginning is vital if you want your spore prints to work. If your prints are unclean, this can cause contamination down the line when you are trying to grow from those spore prints. And if you’ve gifted them to a friend, they may not be so thrilled when the bacteria comes a’calling!

How to Choose Your Mushrooms

When it comes to making a spore print, not all mushrooms are created equal. If you have a selection to choose from, always start with the freshest caps. Ideally these are mushrooms whose caps have recently opened, with the margin of the cap not yet fully extended. This is of course easier if you are harvesting your own crop — you can keep an eye on their progress. It is harder if you are using freshly foraged mushrooms. In this case it will probably come down to choosing the cleanest, most intact specimens. The older the cap, the fewer spores there will be. Additionally, there is a higher likelihood of contamination from bacteria, insects, and other fungi with specimens that have been hanging around for a while. 

Harvesting from a grow kit is easy! (via Wholecelium)

What Do I Print On?

You can make a spore print on a few different mediums, such as white and/or black paper, or on glass slides. However, aluminum foil is the most popular medium. This is because it is cheap, lightweight yet sturdy, and relatively sterile if used straight out of the box. (You could also wipe down the foil with alcohol for extra cleanliness.) The reasons that paper is not the first choice are that mushroom spores tend to blind with the fibers, and that paper mites may nibble on them.

(A Note on Environment)
via Wikimedia Commons

Mushrooms love moisture. So, during the printing process it is vital to maintain humidity, to encourage the spores to eject from the mushroom cap. You want the darkest, thickest spore print possible. Mushrooms are 90% water, so they contain enough moisture to maintain humidity. This is where your glass or bowl comes in. By placing it over the mushroom, you are containing the moisture emanating from the mushroom, ensuring the correct humid conditions. The cup or bowl also works as a protection from dust or airborne bacteria. However, once you are done printing, the spore print needs to dry, as condensation can cause bacteria. 

A room with little wind-flow is ideal for this process. A kitchen for example, is not recommended, due to the likelihood of mold spores. How careful you are will be reflected in the success of your print. 

 How to Make Spore Prints: A Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Clean all surfaces with alcohol and allow to dry
  2. Cut a piece of aluminum foil to size and lay flat. (You can clean this with alcohol too if you wish.)
  3. Sterilize your knife/scalpel with the lighter flame.
  4. With the sterilized blade, cue the cap off your mushroom, as close to the cap as possible. 
  5. Place the cap with gills facing down on the foil. 
  6. Place your glass or bowl over the cap and foil.
  7. Leave to sit for 6 to 12 hours (the longer you leave it, the darker the print.) 
  8. Carefully lift your bowl, and even more carefully remove your mushroom cap.   
  9. Re-cover the print with your drinking glass/bowl and leave for another 6 to 12 hours to dry. 
  10. Create a foil storage envelope to keep your print safe. This can be made with a second piece of aluminum foil, folded in half. Once folded, double-fold the edges. You can then slide your print in like an envelope. Be sure to make the folds clean and tight to prevent any mites or other nasties getting in! (If you want to be super efficient, we recommend making this envelope during the 6-12 hours you are waiting for your print to dry.)
  11. Place in a zip-lock bag, and date and label.
  12. Store in a cool, dark location until needed!

Give Your Spores a Chance

Spores are tough — they want to survive and germinate. But there are things you can do to give them an advantage. The cool, dark location and sealed bag set-up can be optimized by adding moisture absorbing silica gel sachets (these can be easily ordered online.) Also, know that your spores can last a while, but not forever. The optimal time period in which to use them is one or two years.

 After 5 or 6 years, you might have to retire them. But even then, spore prints are the gift that keeps on giving. Simply frame your print, and there you have a groovy piece of shroom art for your wall!