The Magic of Mushroom Prints

Sometimes we forget that beautiful art isn’t just created by people. Nature creates inspiring art everywhere we look. Think about the beautiful etchings of bark beetles on the outside of an old tree, the elegant swirls of frost edging a window, or the snowy prints left behind by a passing fox. And believe it or not – even mushrooms make prints!

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Unlike plants, they do not use the sun’s energy to make food. Instead, they absorb the nutrients they need through special roots called mycelium. When it is time to reproduce, a mushroom sprouts up. Gills from the under the head of the mushroom expel thousands of tiny spores. Some of these spores will eventually drift down onto moist soil and a new generation of mushrooms will become established. The pattern, colour and shape of these spores as they fall on paper can help a Mycologist (someone who studies mushrooms), identify a mushroom. They also make for beautiful art pieces.

Here is how:
Collect several different types of mushrooms. When you are at home or in the classroom, gently remove the stalk so just the mushroom head remains. Place the mushroom heads on a piece of paper (gill side down!). Experiment using dark and light paper (dark spores show up nicely on lighter paper and vice versa). Spore colours can vary from white, to beige and even black. Place a drop of water on each mushroom head. This helps to encourage the release of spores. Cover your mushroom heads with an overturned glass to prevent air currents from disturbing the spores and leave this for several days. Remove the glass and carefully lift the mushroom straight up, (try not to smudge the print by sliding the head from side to side). On your paper will be a beautiful and delicate spore print. Each species of mushroom leaves a spore print that has its own unique pattern and colour. If you want to preserve your spore print, spray with an art fixative (even hair spray will do). Just make sure that you hold your spray can back far enough so you don’t create any smudges. Hang up your mushroom art and enjoy!

You can also study your spores under a microscope. Just scrape off a few spore grains with a sharp knife and transfer these to a microscope slide. Add a small drop of water to the spores and place the cover carefully on top. What colour are your spores, what is their shape?

Want to experiment? Why not leave some of the mushroom heads on paper without cover, so that they are exposed to air currents and see what swirling patterns appear! 

Mushroom Spore Print
If you find any Shaggy Mane Ink Cap mushrooms, collect the black spores. If you have enough of them, you can scrape off the dried spores in to a small glass jar and add a just a tiny amount of vinegar and voila, you’ll have ink. Or you can collect half a dozen Shaggy Manes, add a few drops of Thyme or Oregano oil and leave them in a jar for about 12 hours. Use the ink to create beautiful greeting cards or drawings. Remember there is inspiration all around us in the patterns, forms, textures and colours found in the natural world.

By Jacob Rodenburg