Spores in Fungi Create Sustainable Art
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 or not—even mushrooms make prints!
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Unlike plants, they don’t use the sun’s energy to make food; instead, they absorb the nutrients they need through special roots called mycelium. When it’s time to reproduce, their gills (the rib-like structures under the head of the mushroom) expel thousands of tiny spores, which land in the moist soil around it, establishing a new generation of mushrooms. When placed on a piece of paper, the unique patterns, colours, and shapes these spores make allow a mycologist (someone who studies mushrooms) to identify the type of mushroom they came from. They also make for beautiful art pieces, too!
How to make a mushroom spore print
- Collect several different types of mushrooms. Gently remove the stalk so just the mushroom head remains, and place the heads, gill side down, on a piece of paper. Spore colours can vary from white, to beige, and even black, so experiment using dark and light papers (dark spores show up nicely on lighter paper and vice versa).
- Place a drop of water on the top of each mushroom head to encourage the release of spores, then cover the heads with an overturned glass to prevent air currents from disturbing the spores. Leave for several days. Or experiment by leaving some of the mushroom heads uncovered to see what swirling patterns the air currents help to make!
- Remove the glass and carefully lift the mushrooms straight up, so as not to smudge the print. Each species of mushroom leaves a delicate and uniquely beautiful spore print with its own pattern and colour. To preserve the print, spray with an art fixative (even hair spray will do, but do it in a well-ventilated area). Hang up your mushroom art and enjoy!
Use a microscope to get a closer look! Scrape off a few spore grains with a sharp knife and transfer to a microscope slide. Add a small drop of water and cover. What colour are your spores? What is their shape?
Ink cap mushrooms
If you find Shaggy Mane (Ink Cap) mushrooms, collect the black spores. Scrape off the dried spores into a small glass jar, add a tiny amount of vinegar, and voila, you’ll have ink! 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!