Mushroom spores are tiny, reproductive cells that allow fungus to replicate and grow. Spores are present in huge numbers on healthy mushrooms because successful germination by a spore only happens in very unique circumstances. Each spore is a calling card for the type of mushroom from which it came, a useful fact for wild mushroom hunters who want to identify a species for safe consumption.
A mushroom spore is a unicellular organism responsible for the reproductive processes in mushroom producing fungi. In his book, “Edible Mushrooms”, Clyde Martin Christensen reports the spores are only 1/2500-inch long. Spores are located on the underside of the mushroom cap, in the gills, teeth or pores of the mushroom. Gills, teeth and pores refer to the shape and size of the spore-producing area of the mushroom.
Not all mushrooms produce spores all the time. A mushroom is similar to a piece of fruit on a tree, the seeds symbolic of the spores. Mushrooms, like fruit trees, only produce fruit and seeds for reproduction if there are enough available nutrients and water to account for the extra energy required to produce the spores. Therefore, most spores are characteristic of a fungus system that is healthy, because it is reproducing.
Spores either drop, or are ejected from the bottom of the mushroom cap. The miniscule size of spores allows them to get caught in, and carried along, gentle air currents. When most spores hit the ground, they fall on infertile ground: rocks, leaves of grass, streams, etc. The few spores that do fall on fertile ground send out shoots into the ground, finding other shoots, from other spores and starting a reproductive process, connecting and expanding the underground fungus system.
Identifying wild mushrooms for food is an important process because many mushrooms are extremely poisonous and eating them can result in severe medical problems, even death in some cases. A spore print is one of the techniques used to identify different types of mushrooms. To make a spore print, the cap of the mushroom is cut off and placed gill-, teeth- or pore-side down on a sheet of white paper or plastic wrap. By placing a bowl over top of the mushroom and leaving it overnight, you encourage the mushroom to emit millions of spores. After 24 hours, the amount of emitted spores will have left a definitive print, unique in shape and color to identify the mushroom species.