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How to Make a Spore Print

Sure, you can make beautiful pieces of art from the spores of a mushroom, but you can also learn more about the mushroom in the process, too!

Watch this video to learn how to make a spore print and explore more resources below.

Do you know what a spore is?

A spore is a reproductive cell. Some plants make them but bacteria, algae, and fungi make them too. Spores are to mushrooms as seeds are to plants. Spores are how mushrooms reproduce and make more mushrooms. 

The first step to making a spore print is collecting a mushroom.

You can collect from:

  • Your yard
  • Your friend’s yard (with permission)
  • Local city park. 

You cannot collect from:

  • Someone else’s property without permission
  • State parks

Please follow the rules of where you collect and make sure it is okay to collect from the area you are visiting. 

Bring something to carry your mushroom with, like a basket or paper bag. You don’t want them to get squished in your pocket! Only pick the mushroom if there are a lot around because they are important for the environment

Do you know why mushrooms are important? 

Mushrooms are decomposers which means that they break down dead materials such as fallen leaves and logs to make soil and nutrients that help other living things survive. Remember to wash your hands after handling mushrooms!

Once back home:

  1. Gather jars or containers big enough to place over the mushrooms. Gather white and black paper. It is okay if you only have white paper, but some mushroom spores are white and therefore they won’t show up on white paper that well. 
  2. Take the stems off the mushrooms using your hands or scissors. 
  3. Place the mushrooms with the gills or pores facing down onto the paper. Then place the container over the mushroom to create an airtight seal.
  4. Leave the mushrooms covered anywhere from a couple hours to overnight based on how fresh the mushrooms are.
  5. After you let the mushrooms sit for a while, carefully pick up the containers and the mushrooms to reveal the spore print. Spore prints are fragile, so try to avoid touching it. 

Resources for identifying mushrooms

Long-term lessons: Perspectives on three years of mushroom monitoring in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Christian Schwarz

As mushroom hunters, we enjoy traveling far and wide, bouncing from place to place and following the rains to stay with the season. But what happens when we focus on revisiting the same small areas whether there has been rain or not? And what if we take it a step further, and rather than just harvesting chanterelles or photographing the flashiest species, we take the time to pay attention to everything, counting individual fruitbodies and keeping track of changes from year to to year?

Christian Schwarz has been undertaking just such an effort for the past three years, supported by a grant from the Save the Redwoods League, and this year, some of his survey transects were burned in the CZU Lightning Complex fires. Join the Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History, the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History to hear what discoveries, lessons, and patterns have emerged from this ambitious project.

Resources

Watch past presentations from Christian:
Data is Not the Destination
Macabre Mushrooms: Ghouls of the Woods

Other resources:

About the speaker

Christian Schwarz is a naturalist currently living in Santa Cruz, the land of milk (caps) and honey (mushrooms). He studied Ecology and Evolution at UCSC, and now spends his time photographing, teaching about, collecting, and researching macrofungi. He is coauthor of Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. Fungi satisfy his curiosity with their seemingly endless forms – from the grotesque to the bizarre to the sublimely beautiful. Besides dabbling in mushroom taxonomy, he loves fish, plants, nudibranchs, moths, and dragonflies. He is passionate about citizen science, especially iNaturalist.

This program is part of a series in support of the exhibit Look. Act. Inspire. and is presented in partnership between

Image result for san lorenzo valley museum

Macabre Mushrooms: Ghouls of the Woods with Christian Schwarz

Mycologist Christian Schwarz is back to explore the macabre side of the mushroom kingdom during this online lecture. From bizarre appearances to odd sexual proclivities, and digestive modes that are downright appalling, these mycological tales will delight Halloween revelers and offend Victorian sensibilities.

Image of Christian Schwarz holding up a mushroom to a group of people.

Christian Schwarz is a naturalist currently living in Santa Cruz, the land of milk (caps) and honey (mushrooms). He studied Ecology and Evolution at UCSC, and now spends his time photographing, teaching about, collecting, and researching macrofungi. He is coauthor of Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast. Fungi satisfy his curiosity with their seemingly endless forms – from the grotesque to the bizarre to the sublimely beautiful. Besides dabbling in mushroom taxonomy, he loves fish, plants, nudibranchs, moths, and dragonflies. He is passionate about citizen science, especially iNaturalist.

Lecture: Data is Not the Destination with Christian Schwarz

This live program was held on May 4, 2020 and features a presentation from Christian Schwarz in conversation with Marisa Gomez, Public Programs Manager.

The world is changing rapidly — and not just in the way we’re all currently experiencing! Citizen science or community science is an immensely popular model of engaging the natural world, and can be done even while physically distancing.

Using mushrooms and the community of people who admire them as lenses to focus our discussion, we’ll talk about where we’ve come from with traditional science and where community science is taking us.

Sourgrass Natural Dye Video Tutorial

There’s more to sourgrass than its lip-puckering powers. Dig a little deeper with this natural dye video tutorial.

Sourgrass (Oxalis sp.) is a plant of extremes: children love its strong flavor, pollinators gorge on its abundant nectar, many adore its ability to overwhelm a field when in bloom, and many still detest the invasive qualities of some of its species. Oxalis pes-caprae, native to South Africa, has made itself comfortably at home in California, forming dense mats that outcompete native plant species for light and space.

Whether you love it or can’t stand it, sourgrass has an interesting hidden quality that is both useful and exciting: it dyes fabric a vibrant, neon, highlighter-yellow color. Watch our video tutorial to learn how to play with its pigment and explore more resources below:

Post by Marisa

Collections February 2020: Frequent Flyers

If fungi had a poster child, who would it be? A classic red capped amanita? Or maybe an exuberantly golden chanterelle? Or maybe, just maybe, it would be one of the eclectic cast of characters that has periodically adorned Fungus Fair flyers from as far back as the 1970s!

1978 Fungus Fair flyer

Centered in a square frame, a grasshopper (or another member of the family orthoptera) leans an “elbow” onto a table piled high with vibrant fungal forms, reaching lazily towards this treasure trove. Nearby, what appears to be an excited alligator lizard is poised to pop a mushroom in it is mouth. It’s a homey scene, but unlikely beyond the goofy trope of animals at a table. While grasshoppers, who prefer leafy green meals, will turn to fungi for food, alligator lizards might likelier eat their fellow fair guest! 

Zooming out, these whimsical Fungus Fair attendees are in a series of rooms full of fungi. The specimens appear to be planted into the floor, recalling the elaborate dioramas of the fair, where a visitor might wonder how they walked through the doors of the Louden Nelson Center and found themselves in a forest. And while these elaborate displays have been an iconic part of the event, it hasn’t always been held at Louden.

In fact, the first festival was held in 1974 here at your favorite local natural history museum, then called the Santa Cruz City Museum. From the beginning, it featured more than 150 varieties of wild native mushrooms, displayed in those trademark habitat dioramas with detailed identifications. Originally a joint project of the Museum, mycologist David Arora, and enthusiastic community members who would become the Fungus Federation, the event quickly grew to thousands of guests. There were even years where the very rains that supported fungal growth would cancel the tables and activities that had to spill out into Tyrrell Park. 

Looking for more space, the fair moved around and eventually settled at Louden in the 1990s. In describing the choice of venue, longtime member and mushroom identification instructor Phil Carpenter pointed out the value of not only having more space, but of having a facility where the Federation could begin setting up displays many days ahead of time. This extra time is a critical requirement for specimen preservation and display, as Federation members are called upon to gather various specimens in the days leading up to each year’s fair. Dive into years of the Fungus Federation’s digitized newsletters for more on the nuts and bolts of everything from fair set up to making that ideal chanterelle pasta. 

This shared history is one of the reasons why our own archive has so many Fungus Fair treasures. Another reason is the treasure who was a longtime volunteer, Pat Smith. Building on last month’s close up, the people behind these posters weren’t always science illustrators – sometimes they were silkscreening powerhouses!

Pat and her husband Kirk Smith arrived in Santa Cruz in the mid 1970s after serving in the Peace Corps. Some of their adult children had established roots in the community, and they soon followed suit. One of the organizations they both cared a great deal about was our little museum. Pat gravitated towards active and tangible ways to support her causes – she would rather be printing t-shirts and flyers for the gift shop than serving on a board. And make them she did – for countless events ranging from public festivals to staff birthday parties. 

Her daughter and current board member Laura Smith remembers Pat’s constant outpouring of creative activity over the course of a lifetime – from making linocuts with one of her small daughters, to teaching underserved students sewing and photography after her own kids had grown up, to turning part of the couple’s Santa Cruz home into a silkscreen studio. If you stopped in at Pat and Kirk’s for a visit, and mentioned you liked frogs, Pat would jump at the chance to invite you into the darkroom to make yourself a frog t-shirt.

You can see one of the screens used to print our fun fungi dinner guests, as well as different iterations of posters, mailers, and even aprons featuring this design on display this month at the Museum. And you can find more fungi images and interactives as part of our final month of the visiting exhibition Mushrooms: Kings to the Kingdom Fungi.  

Fun Forms: Nature Illustration in Fungus Fair Posters

With the Central Coast awash in new growth, this time of year finds many a fungus hunter stalking the landscape to feast their eyes, expand their minds, or feed their stomachs. For the January and February Collections Close-Ups, we went hunting in the museum’s archives to highlight stories of fungus and the people who appreciate them.  

A beloved institution for many of us, the Fungus Federation is a community organization that promotes love for and study of fungi. They welcome folks of all skill levels, from amateurs just learning what to look for, to experts helping science look more closely at the mycoflora of Santa Cruz County. In addition to educational events, workshops, and classes, they support scientific research through scholarships and grants. A federation member might be just as likely to help you learn what a particular mushroom is, as they are to advise you on how to cook it. Of course, one doesn’t always follow the other – in the words of mushroom enthusiasts, who seem equally fond of fun sayings as they are of caution – there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.

And they don’t just put the fun in fungi, they put on the famous annual Fungus Fair! This year’s festivities will take place from January 10 to 12 at Louden Nelson Community Center. The festivities of yesteryear can also be found in our pop up display of previous fair posters. 

The Federation’s knack for bringing people together over fungi extends to the robust local community of science and nature illustrators. This selection of posters highlights diverse strategies and styles used to depict the natural world, from watercolor to block printing to photo collage. Oftentimes the artists have been graduates of UCSC’s former science illustration certificate program. We were lucky enough to catch up with two of them.

Cynthia Armstrong’s illustration for the 2003 Fungus Fair poster is a striking combination of stark contrasts and intricate detail, highlighting a variety of fungus species ensconced within a delicate network of vines. She made it not long after completing her science illustration degree, committed to pursuing a career that dovetailed her first love, science, with her lifelong creative impulses. As an artist, Cynthia loves to show her processes – the unfolding of a subject in process recalls how the scientific exploration for answers often unfolds into new questions. As a science illustrator, she has enjoyed taking part in this process across the world, whether illustrating mammoth bones in Maine’s state museum or documenting plants for a field botanist in Panama.  

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At home on the Central Coast, Cynthia loves that the redwoods are always full of opportunities to find fungus. The incredible diversity of fungus keeps her intrigued – their otherworldly and alien forms and structures are a joy to illustrate. She still regularly attends the Fungus Fair with her family, having first attended decades ago when fair founder David Arora was signing copies of his newly published classic, Mushrooms Demystified. You can catch Cynthia’s current work, including local classes, on her website.

Gay Kraeger’s work for the 2004 fair poster provides another perspective: four species of dreamily watercolored fungi chart a circle in time – guiding the viewer on what season one might be most likely to find them. Gay actually created this image years before she formally got into illustration. Her neighbors at the time, Fungus Federation members who were in the habit of hosting parties with delicious food, asked her to help illustrate a fungi cookbook they were putting together. Gay was happy to help – she’d always been in engaged with art, and natural history is her favorite subject. 

A diagram of fungi sorted by the seasons

Today her career continues to bring together these interests: on the one hand she teaches illustrated watercoloring journaling. Her own journaling entries are stunning. She loves to see people become more excited and aware of the world as they build the confidence to draw it. On the other hand, she and her business partner Holly Reed run an interpretive design firm called Wildways Illustrated. You can see their work all over the state, but locally they’ve contributed to signage and exhibits at places like Natural Bridges, Ano Nuevo, and the Boardwalk. She’s excited to be working on a welcome panel for Henry Cowell, where park staff made sure to request a turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) as a primary feature. 


For the next two months, these posters and others from the history of the Fungus Fair will be displayed alongside a riveting traveling exhibit. We are excited to be hosting Mushrooms: Keys to the Kingdom Fungi, an exhibition developed by Jennifer Jewell and John Whittlesey.