Spore printing for mushroom identification

This year we have fewer autumn colours as so many drought-stressed trees in a bid for survival economised on their water use by dropping their leaves early without dressing themselves in the yellows, oranges and reds.
But now, here in the UK, those with deep roots are putting on an end-of-season display, and we have had enough gentle rain to bring out the mushrooms.
Mushrooms! Time for treasure hunts in the garden, on the verges, and on woodland walks. Get the family involved, and let nature show us her artworks!

With my new-found interest in underground fungal networks for soil health, little inconspicuous mushrooms have become far more intriguing, and deserve as much attention as their edible cousins.
I had a fair chance of knowing my edible mushrooms, but who’s keeping the artichokes company??

Fungi in the globe artichoke patch, mulched with Strulch over an old layer of composted woodchips

Where do we start with mushroom identification for those “little brown jobbies”?
Ask Paul Nichols! I had the pleasure of meeting this field mycologist some years back in the ever rainy Lake District.
He has written this fantastic little field guide. Light to carry, slim, A5 – it packs a punch. No photos, no descriptions, but a clear key, guiding us to oberve and make an educated judgment on the genus level.

There is now a newer edition available, which may or may not have photos, but that’s really not the point of this fantastic little tool anyway. It’s better without pictures, I think, in combination with some other resources.

ISBN-10 : 1527212254
ISBN-13 : 978-1527212251

First, we need to know about the colour of the mushroom spores, and are allowed to have great fun in the process, elephant mug and all, by creating spore prints:

Mushroom spore printing


Take a mushroom (where they are plentiful and we have permission for collection).

Observe: What is the shape of the cap? Does it have gills or sponge tissue? Are the gills attached to the stem?

Taking some photos from different angles will help with the ID later, and I can start to create a little personal library.

Now take a cap, and push the stalk through, then place the cap down on a piece of paper to see the colour.

Ideally, put your mushroom half on black, and half on white paper. Cover this with a bowl or mug to create the moist conditions that help release the spores.
Or on glass – and insert the different papers underneath. Microscope slides work very well.

And now we know a key piece of information to follow Mr Nichol’s key: Are the spores milky brown, cream, white, pink even?

Since fungi and soil life are attracting more attention and wonder, they get re-arranged in the taxonomy. No matter, even the older edition of the key is still very valuable. And the fungi don’t mind.

The genus can give a hint about the fungal habitats, and may help us understand the status of the soil food web better, and whether we are facilitating in the right direction for our crops.

After my little exploration, I am pleased to know that it’s possibly a member of the Hebeloma tribe that’s sharing the space with the artichokes. It probably came in with some woodchips. The genus covers a wide range of habitat, so no certainty.

The ones in the gooseberry/veg bed came out according to the key as possibly part of the Gymnopus branch of the mushroom family tree. They decompose woody materials and can be found in wood and leaf litter. That’s a match for where I found them (plenty of woodchips and leaf mulch used).

Their name refers to the stem, without any distinguishing features: Gymno (naked) + pus (foot). Feel like mulching it up with some lovely sheep’s wool, just as it’s getting colder 😉

As always, I could be wrong. Please don’t rely on any of my ID, particularly if you inted to eat any mushrooms.

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