Most people don’t think about cultivating mushrooms. We go to the grocery store, pick them up from the vegetable section (even though fungi are not plants!), and leave them at that.
However, if you’re interested in growing mushrooms, from functional kinds to magic mushrooms or any other kind of fresh mushroom, you might be wondering - did the spore or the mushroom come first? We're not here for a philosophical wander down the fungal version of the chicken or the egg - but instead, we are here to help educate you about the beauty of mushroom spores and how you can begin cultivating them.
What Are Mushroom Spores?
Before we get into more detail about how to grow mushrooms, it’s a good idea to explain what spores are.
Even though you find mushrooms in the vegetable section of the grocery store, and they’re usually grouped with veggies, they’re not actually vegetables at all. In fact, mushrooms are a type of fungus and belong to a group of plants known as thallus plants.
That is to say, they’re a simpler form of plant that doesn’t have all the characteristics of more advanced plant species – and one of the differences is how mushrooms reproduce.
Unlike more evolved plant species, mushrooms don’t create seeds. Instead, they have what are called “spores” which are self-contained cells that are designed for reproduction. When the spores spread, they are fertilized, and when they land on a suitable material, they put down “roots” and grow.
These tiny one-celled organisms can be found in some of the most unfavorable conditions within the harshest environments on Earth. From there, the spores begin to germinate or grow, before the mycelium, or branching cells, begin to form. Once they branch out, the fruiting body takes shape before evolving into its mature body.
What Do Mushroom Spores Look Like?
Mushroom spores look like fine dust, and they can be a variety of colors. Some spores, like the ones from portobello mushrooms, are dark brown. But others could be white, cream, red, purple, or even (usually with poisonous mushrooms!) green.
If you've ever brushed a fresh mushroom cap, you might see a cloud of smoke or mist arise from the mushroom. Those are microscopic spores beginning their adventure as they seek refuge among the soil or the stars.
Cultivation Methods for Spores - Prints and Syringes
In the wild, mushroom reproduction is mostly about luck and wind – the wind catches the spores, and then it’s a matter of luck that they’re fertilized and find a suitable place to grow. However, it’s possible to do this yourself too, and because you’re in control, it’s more a predictable and controllable process!
Before you begin it's important to note, cultivating using spores can be a tricky process, as it requires the individual to start at the very beginning of a mushroom's life cycle. And with more steps in place, there's an increased chance of something controllable or uncontrollable going wrong. A great way to hedge against these factors is using tin foil rather than paper or glass. Tinfoil is more sterile (as it can be cleaned with alcohol) and makes transferring the spores much easier.
More importantly, for you, the fungi, and the ecosystem - spores aren't produced until near the end of the mushroom life cycle, so be sure to try and find a mushroom that is mature in age!
How to Cultivate Using Spore Prints
- Carefully remove the stem from the fully matured mushroom you want to grow.
- Remove any remaining pieces of “skirt” which is the “frill” around the top of the stem that protects the dark spores on the gills.
- Place the prepared mushroom cap spore side down on a sheet of tin foil and cover it with a small glass container, bowl, or cup.
- Leave the mushroom cap face down under the glass for a day.
- Depending on the maturity of the mushroom - reliable spore prints can take an hour to a day to result in a worthwhile spore print.
- After the time is up, remove the glass and lift the cap – you should see a spore print on the tin foil/paper.
- Now, fold the tin foil to cover the spores and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
- These prints can be stored at room temperature and can last decades.
- The standard method is scraping off the spores from the print into a nutrified agar plate.
How to Cultivate Using Spore Syringes
- Follow steps 1 - 6 as listed above, step 7 is where the change begins when using mushroom spore syringes.
- Place the spores in sterilized water.
- You can buy sterilized water or make it yourself! To sterilize water, place water in a covered pan and boil it for at least 20 minutes.
- Once the sterilized water and spores have been mixed, you can inject the spore solution back into the spore syringe for storage.
- With the spore syringe, you can also inoculate sterilized grain or inject it right into the substrate.
Now that you know how to grow mushrooms, it’s easy to see that this is not particularly hard. It just takes a little time and some attention to detail. Add some nutrient-rich material and a dark, warm place in your home, and you should soon have your own crop of mushrooms!
In a nutshell, rather a fruiting body, spore syringes suspend the spores in a solution without destroying them (hence the importance of sterilized water). Spore prints are more like a stamp that can be left overnight and then tucked away for years and years to come. Maybe the fungal prints can be your next white elephant gift!
Where to Buy Mushroom Spores
As you can see from the growing instructions above, you could harvest your own mushroom spores from mushrooms themselves. But there are also many websites that sell special types of mushrooms, so if you’re looking for something specific, the internet is a great place to look!
Buying mushroom spores and even premium spores is relatively easy, depending on what kind of mushroom you’re looking for. You can also buy full mushroom growing kits, which have all the stuff you need to start growing your own mushroom crop included. It’s as easy as putting the contents of the syringe on the growing material and waiting for them to sprout!
Our favorite place to buy spores online is Spores Lab!
How Long Do Mushroom Spores Last?
Mushroom spores have a very long “lifespan.” In fact, mushroom spore prints can last many years. Some have even been known to remain viable for as long as 18 years!
Once mushroom spores have been prepared in a syringe, they will deteriorate faster, because the water encourages bacteria growth. So, if you have a prepared syringe, you should aim to use it in about 8 to 10 months.
Are Mushroom Spores Legal?
That depends on the type of mushroom you want to grow – and where you live!
In short, yes. Whether the spores come from lion's mane, oyster, or shiitake mushrooms, or even psychedelic mushroom spores, it is legal to buy mushrooms spores. When buying psilocybin spores, these spores don't yet contain the magical compound which means they're technically legal. Think about it as a mycelial loophole.
The illegality comes into play around germinating or cultivating the spores into psilocybin mushrooms. Since buying spores is supposed to be only intended for educational or research and identification purposes, most people can buy spores so long as they do not germinate them.
Both the mycelium and fruiting mushrooms contain psilocybin, making them illegal. So once the magic mushroom spores begin to germinate, technically law enforcement can legally charge you with cultivation or possession of a controlled substance. The same holds true for the possession or sale of fresh and dried psilocybin mushrooms.
So, if you're fruiting bodies are free from psilocybin, you're good to go! Popular strains are lion's mane, reishi, turkey tail, oyster, or shiitake mushrooms to name a few. There are spore vendors far and wide, so make sure you read the reviews or even pop the companies in Reddit for a deeper dive into the legitimacy to sell spores.
But, if the spores will evolve into psychedelic mushrooms, cultivating these fresh mushrooms is still illegal. While the narrative is shifting and powerful research is coming around in the psychedelic landscape, these laws have not bent, although, in time, we believe they will have no choice to bend or reshape completely.
No matter the personal use of your particular mushroom strain, make sure you do your research, understand the rules and laws at play, and decide accordingly.
The Come Down
Spores are literally everywhere! From space to our lungs, to the moldy food we need to toss, and everywhere in between. There are some estimates that we breathe in up to 10 billion spores a day!
As you continue learning if the grow-at-home movement is for you, understand the rules in place. Where your particular mushroom strains lie and why it is you want to grow in the first place matter. To connect with the life cycle of one of Earth's most ancient organisms is... magical. Whether you're talking to the spores or the fruiting bodies, taking pictures and sharing them with friends, or simply being present as you garden, enjoy the process, learn from the outcomes, and have fun growing your fungi (or fungals)