Amateur microscopists who work with mushroom spores under the microscope always seem to end up getting interested in the taxonomy of mushrooms.

And who can blame them—it’s a subject that’s genuinely interesting and fun!

Plus, this hobby has several material benefits as well. Getting “good” at taxonomy means that you can identify mushrooms, sometimes at a glance. You might even be able to identify fungi at its various stages of development, from the mature fruiting body to the mycelium, all the way down to the microscopic but no less beautiful spore stage.

A small image of an unidentified spore print.

One of the most popular and easy ways to assist in the identification of a fungi is with what’s called a spore print. In today’s post, we’ll be exploring why microscopists, taxonomists, and mycologists find these prints so useful, and we’ll even go through the steps of creating a spore print of your very own as a fun and easy afternoon project.

Note: as we go through this post, please do remember to brush up on your local laws whenever working with exotic mushrooms. Our articles Why Are Magic Mushroom Spores Legal? and Are Magic Mushroom Spores Legal in My State? can help get you started. Also, please make sure to take all necessary safety precautions before working with any kind of mushroom.

With that being said, let’s dig in. Just what is a spore print, anyway?

What is a Spore Print?

A spore print of psilocybe semilanceata.
A spore print of Psilocybe semilanceata, via Wikimedia Commons.

In our article How to Identify Psilocybin Mushrooms, we go into fairly lengthy detail about identifying psilocybin mushrooms in the wilderness, ranging from cubensis to mexicana and semilanceata and others. But that article is about how to identify mature fungi, somewhere growing out in nature (and presumably a finding that you wish to leave undisturbed).

However, assume that you had a mushroom in hand. What if you wanted to identify it, but a visual inspection just wasn’t enough?

This is a situation where making a spore print can come in handy. A spore print is essentially the unique “stamp” of the mushroom. As you already know from reading our article Mushroom Spores & Microscopy Research (and specifically the section “What Exactly IS a Mushroom Spore?”), mushrooms—Basidiomycetes—release spores from their gills, the little ridges underneath the cap of the fruiting body.

The Life Cycle of a Mushroom
You’ve seen this image in our article Mushroom Spores & Microscopy Research. It can never hurt to go back and brush up on the basics!

A spore print is the result of capturing those spores in a very uniform way onto a piece of paper or other material. After doing so, one is left with a remarkably consistent pattern which is often unique enough to facilitate the identification of the fungi.

Spore prints can also be a method of storing spores for later use and study, but we believe spore syringes are the superior storage method for microscopy for reasons we’ll discuss in just a little bit.

With a spore print in hand, you can use an identification guidebook or the internet to learn more about the fungi. Often with all the details you’ve collected about the fungi—the location, the appearance, and the spore print, you’ll have enough taxonomical information to determine its species.

How Do I Make a Spore Print?

Making a spore print is actually not a terribly complicated process, nor does it require any specialized equipment.

Gather the following materials:

  • Gloves
  • A craft knife, scalpel, or similarly fine cutting tool
  • A piece of paper or other material to capture the spore print
  • A glass jar, cup, or tumbler
  • Tissue paper and water (occasionally/optionally, see below)
  • Clear varnish for preservation

The microscopist begins with the mature fruiting body of a fungi in-hand (the mushroom). First, remove the stem as close to the cap as possible. The goal is to allow the cap, when turned over, to be as flush with the paper you want to put the spore print on as possible—this is where that craft knife can come in handy, to make a clean cut.

Next, place the cap onto the paper, ensuring that the gills are facing downward. Hint: if you’re working with a mushroom that produces white spores (like Albino Penis Envy spores, for example), you’ll want to use a darkly colored piece of paper, otherwise you aren’t likely to see much of anything after the print is captured!

Albino Penis Envy Spores
The mature fruiting body of Albino Penis Envy fungi, which produces white-colored spores. You wouldn’t want to make a spore print using a white piece of paper!

Finally, cover the cap with the glass jar or cup. Make sure to set everything up in a location where the glass isn’t likely to be accidentally knocked over and the paper won’t be moved or otherwise jostled around. The purpose of the glass is to prevent any spores from blowing away and to prevent the cap from getting too dry while it sits.

Speaking of dryness, some mushroom caps will dry out too quickly before they can make an effective spore print. If this is the case with your specimen, you can take a damp piece of tissue paper—damp, not dripping—and gently place it over the top of the cap to provide it with a little moisture.

Now your job is simply to wait for three to five hours!

An example of a mushroom spore print for microscopy and taxonomy.

After that duration of time, put the jar away and carefully remove the cap, minding not to smudge the spores underneath. Lift it in as horizontal a manner as possible. Once removed, you’ll reveal a beautiful spore print on the paper or other material used.

If you want to preserve the spore print, you can use a little spray-on painter’s varnish, available at most craft stores. This will stick the spores to the paper and protect them. Spore print “art” like this can be a lovely display piece for your microscopy lab!

Spore Prints vs. Spore Syringes – Which is Better?

As mentioned, we believe that for the purposes of microscopy, a spore syringe is the superior method of storing mushroom spores. This is because a spore syringe is just so much easier to handle in the lab. Not only does a syringe allow you to place a more accurate amount of spores directly onto your slides, those spores are much less likely to become contaminated.

If you’re interested in studying authentic, viable, non-contaminated exotic mushroom spores under your microscope, we invite you to shop our wide variety of genuine psilocybin mushroom spore syringes. Have fun!