One of my favourite things to do in the Autumn (or any season really) is to go for a good forage. There is such an abundance of berries and nuts, and of course mushrooms. As mushrooms can be misidentified easily, I tend to stay away from foraging to eat posts. There are a wealth of experts out there, as well as knowledgeable groups that can help you to identify an edible ‘shroom. However, an important part of the identification process is to take a spore print, and this is a fun activity anyone can take part in; as long as you can make sure they are not eating anything they shouldn’t!
We noticed an abundance of mushrooms sprouting in our local cemetery this week, and after school took our mushroom book and a couple of buckets to go picking. We kept one bucket for edibles that Mummy was going to have for dinner that evening (ID’d the day before using this very technique) and a bucket to collect all the other different specimens we could find. Once you start looking it is amazing how they start popping up everywhere… Whilst A. was busy terrorising the local cat population, E. had great fun asking permission to enter the numerous fairy rings sprouting alongside the path, and carefully selecting which specimens to take home and identify.
We found slimy ones, orange ones, coral-like ones, puffy ones – there was a surprising variety despite the lateness of season. E. needed help picking the slimy ones, but enjoyed picking all the others, and poking the puffballs to release the spores. Once we had a respectable collection we detangled A. from the brambles and headed home to make our prints.
From a quick flick through our mushroom book (Collins gem ‘Mushrooms’) I anticipated that the majority of our spores would give white prints. We chose a darker shade of paper to lay our mushrooms on in the hope they would show up nice and clear. After removing the stalks, we placed the mushrooms gill or pore side down on the paper (a couple split as E. put them down, but this just adds to the uniqueness of the print). We then sprinkled a drop of water on top of each cap to encourage the mushrooms to release their spores, and placed a glass over the top.
We ended up leaving them over night until the following day after school, however it should only take 4 or so hours before you can see a spore print. Leaving them this long did allow us to see what happened to the mushrooms as they aged, the green ones turning orange, the orange turning yellow and flattening out. This observation revealed that the green and orange mushrooms were actually the same type, just at different stages of growing! It turns out we had found a couple of different wax caps – ivory and parrot, as well as a wood blewit and some deceivers .
The resulting spore prints showed up so well against the purple craft paper – a little smudged by eager hands, but beautiful nonetheless. E. was fascinated by the reveal, the print looking almost like a ghost of the mushroom. One of E.’s favourite activities is cutting, so she took great delight in cutting out the prints, which reminded her of owl eyes… this in turn led to some collage inspiration, and after a weekend hike in the moors we collected some autumn treasures to complete the picture.
Foraging doesn’t always have to be about finding something edible to eat. Seeds can be harvested and collected for planting in the Spring. Great joy can be found from taking specimens from nature to disect, investigate and identify. Works of art can be inspired and created using path side finds. Come December, we like to forage for foliage to decorate the house – variegated holly’s, firs and spruces to adorn our mantels and bookcases. What’s your favourite thing to forage for?
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