Calabogie Hiker: Spore Printing and Mushroom ID Basics.

BLOG 15: The more I study the mysterious Fungi Kingdom the more fascinating they become to me. We know fungi play a vital role in the Earth’s ecosystem and how we couldn’t live without their travelling mycelium. We still do not know why they appear suddenly and then seem to pop out of nowhere. We know they cannot be classified as a plant or an animal and fall into in a separate kingdom all on their own. What a mysterious bunch of creatures! If you visit my website (CalabogieHiker.com) you will find ten’s of photos of mushrooms photographed by me since 2016. I found them all in the highlands. Its been over a year that I’ve been combing through Fungi books and I still cannot identify many of my photos. For everyone’s safety I try to only label fungi if I am certain of their identification. The complexity of identifying fungi is overwhelming at times and compounded by the fact that there are a good number of mushrooms yet to be identified even by mycologists. I haven’t found one book that doesn’t include an fungi identification disclaimer due to the poisonous nature of some mushrooms. Almost every expert has noted that it is possible they have an incorrectly identified a mushroom in one of their photos. Wow. How will you know about the misidentification? Im certain you won’t if you are dead. Drama aside, the likelihood there are many undiscovered mushrooms in the forests of the Madawaska Highlands is high. Especially in areas of virgin forests. Now that in itself a very good reason to get out hiking and find your mushroom. The one YOU discovered and therefore the one you can name….no? Sounds like fun to me.

Mushroom hunting is expecially fun if you are an explorer at heart just like me. I caution you to bring a compass or GPS with you when you go out into the forest. As you search your head will certainly be focussed on the ground and you will be zigzagging through the forest from mushroom to mushroom. You will be off course in no time. Especially if the person you are hiking with is also an explorer type. As you get better at finding mushrooms with a trained eye and the knowledge to look where they are hiding, you will be transformed into a bloodhound sniffing its way to that elusive rabbit without looking back. Bring the compass, please.

Mushrooms can be found to be most plentiful in the spring and fall just after our rain seasons in April and September. Mushrooms disappear during hot and dry weather, like July, for example. They usually can be found between April to October in any damp wooded area that is littered with dead trees. Mushrooms pop up out of nowhere for a limited time so please be prepared to pick ripe ones as you see them otherwise they will be gone before your next hike. If they are young and at or near the button stage you can return to that spot in a week and pick them. If they are past the button stage and not fully in their prime go back in three days to pick them. Otherwise they will be full of bugs or rotted beyond edibility. A real disappointment for your belly and your salivatory glands, I must add.

Why pick your own mushrooms instead of buying them in the grocery store? Flavour. Once you get a taste for wild mushrooms it is hard to go back to the bland and uninteresting grocery variety. Since the Roman times, foraged mushrooms have been revered and found in many gourmet dishes. To this day, the same mushrooms found in those roman dishes, truffles, boletes, chanterelles and morels, for example, continue to show up in menus of fine restaurants and fetch a very pretty purse for foragers. Some Chef’s will shell out hundreds of dollars a pound for some varieties. Now that is exciting.

If you go mushroom hunting be prepared to carry a flat-bottomed basket, wax paper, a pocket knife and a note pad with pen. The basket ensures the mushrooms won’t get tossed around and bruised. Baskets let mushrooms freely disperse their spores too. Use wax paper to separate different mushroom species type. Do not use plastic wrap as this causes mushrooms to decay at a faster rate than wax paper. Make sure to jot down all pertinent data to help you properly identify your mushrooms. Necessary data like the type of habitant or area you found it in, the tree it is consuming, type of trees surrounding it, is it a single stand alone mushroom or is it in a group? What is the overall colour or colours? Does it have a smell? What is the colour of the cap? What is the cap size and shape? Gills or no gills, pores or teeth? Scales? Stalk? Latex when scratched? What colour was the spore print? Brown? White?

You need to record everything in the field as the overall colour of the mushroom may drastically change once you get it back to your house. Identification later from books will prove difficult because most books usually only print pictures of perfect specimens. Yes, a smartphone can be used to replace the notepad but You must photograph the mushroom from every angle and dictate all the other pertinent info into your phone notes via the microphone. Make sure you have your phone fully charged and a portable power bar to handle all the extra power you will need to take the pics for proper identification. Seriously though a paper notepad saves the power in your phone you may need for its GPS or emergency calls.

Phew that is a lot of data for one little mushroom to identify. Of all the things to inspect on a mushroom before you are certain you have the correct fungi, making the spore print is probably the most exciting identifyer and can usually be the deciding factor to know if you have a delicious edible mushroom in front of you or a poisonous look-alike. Spores are the very tiny reproduction ‘seeds’ (for lack of a better term) that are dispersed in many different ways. All mushrooms produce millions of spores. There is that mystery again - millions of spores per mushroom, so why will only one pop up here or there?

How do you make a spore print, you ask? I have included instuctions at the end of the article but I’d like to add that a spore print can be used for other purposes than the identification of mushrooms. Artists make spore prints to use in their mixed media works and foragers make spore prints on their hats or knapsacks in the hope wind will help disperse the spores into their favourite forest, germinate and produce mushrooms when the right conditions are created. What are these right conditions is still not fully understood by scientists. At the very least, the mycelium will create an underground highway of mycelia that will help preserve the ecosystem in your forest. This is a good thing for everyone on Earth.

How To Make a Spore Print:

  1. Cut off mushrooms stalk close to the base using a sharp knife for a clean cut. Be careful not to damage the gills if you want a perfect print.

  2. Place the cap with its gills or spore-side facing down on a piece of card stock paper

  3. Put a drop of water on the top of the cap and cover with a glass (see photos)

  4. Remove the mushroom cap to reveal the spore print left on the card stock. Some mushroom caps produce prints in a few hours and some take up to 12 hours

  5. If you are using your print for an artwork piece, spay it right away with an artist’s fixative spray to keep the spores in place permanently or take a photo of your delightful print for use in a collage. (Tip: Multiple overlapping mushrooms make very cool prints for handmade cards).

  6. If you want to germinate the spores do not spray with a fixative glue but instead wrap the spore card in wax paper and bring it to the forest to shake the spores around

Please have fun experimenting and know that spore prints can be brownish, white, cream, pink and even violet. Your mushroom cap’s shape and size with or without gills is fun to experiment with on different coloured card stock. The possibilities are endless. Please share this article with your crafter friends or hiking partner. They will be pleasantly surprised and eager to start. Happy hiking everyone.

{Sources: The Complete Mushroom Hunter. Gary Lincoff, Massachusettes, 2017 / Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World. Paul Stamets, Hong Kong 2005 / National Audubon Society Field Guide8

to North American Mushrooms. Gary H. Lincoff, New York 1995}

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