During some recent rains, we let our backyard go a little too long without tending and we ended up with some mushrooms growing on our lawn.
While my husband was dismayed at the state of our yard, I saw learning potential. I asked my son to bring some mushrooms in for us to make mushroom spore prints!
Note: You can find more awesome science activities on my Science Activities for Kids page!
What are mushroom spores?
A mushroom is a fleshy, spore-bearing type of fungus that typically grows above ground on soil or on some other food source. There are thousands of types of mushrooms. Although a few mushroom types are poisonous, many are edible and even have positive health benefits.
The part of the mushroom we typically eat is called the cap, and the cap is vital to mushroom reproduction. This is because the underside of the cap between the “gills” is where mushroom spores are produced.
Each spore is a single cell capable of developing into a new mushroom. A single mushroom can produce millions if not billions of spores. The spores look like a very fine dust.
Spores are carried by wind to new locations where, if they land in the right place, they will grow into new mushrooms. After the spores are released, the cap of the mushroom dies.
How to make mushroom spore prints
First a word of caution: Never eat mushrooms unless you are 100% sure they are safe to eat because, for example, you purchased them from a reliable vendor. Use caution when using mushrooms around young children who put things in their mouths. Certain mushrooms species can cause death if ingested.
To make mushroom spore prints you will need the following materials:
- Mushroom caps
- White and/or black paper
To begin, remove the stems from your mushrooms, leaving only the mushroom caps. You can toss the stems away.
Now you have to decide whether to use white paper or black paper.
Mushroom spores come in a variety of colors. Most spores are some shade of white, pink, brown or black (although there are unusual varieties that have colors such as yellow, orange, and green).
If you know that your mushroom produces light colored spores, then place it gills-down onto a black sheet of paper. If you know that your mushroom produces dark colored spores, then place it gills-down onto a white sheet of paper.
If you aren’t sure what color spores your mushroom produces, you may want to place at least one mushroom on a white sheet paper and at least one mushroom on a black sheet of paper until you determine what the spore color is.
We waited 24 hours before checking our spore prints. But if your mushroom is very mature you may see a spore print in as little as an hour. In general, you should not need more than one day to see spore prints.
When ready, gently remove the mushroom caps from your paper.
Behold the prints you’ve created!
As you can see in the image below, it is possible to see lines of spores from the gills of the mushroom cap in the print at the top and the print on the bottom right.
The print on the bottom left was clearly made by a mature mushroom. It dumped the most spores of the three mushrooms and there are no signs of gill lines anymore.
The holes in the middle of each print was from where the stems were removed. The mushroom produces no spores in that part.
My daughter was keen to touch the spores to see how they felt.
However, unless you are 100% sure that the mushrooms you used are edible, I recommend against allowing your children to touch, and if they do touch, be sure they wash their hands immediately afterwards.
More science activities for kids
More science posts from Gift of Curiosity:
- Dancing raisins
- Candy experiments
- Jumping colors science activity
- Make your own glycerin soap
- Crystallized snowflakes
- Dissecting an apple
- What do ants like to eat?
- Make your own telescope
- The great baking soda and vinegar experiment
- Magic inflating balloons