Duration: 30 to 40 minutes
Vocabulary: ecosystem, nutrient, decompose, mushroom, hyphae, mycelia
Summary: Students will learn about the way mushrooms reproduce using spores by making spore prints.
Objectives: Students will discover that there are different ways of reproducing, and many fungi put out spores. These spores can be used to make art and help identify the type of mushroom.
Materials: white paper, plastic cup, fresh mushroom caps
A mushroom might seem like a plant, but it is actually something called a “fruiting body,” and is the part of a fungus that releases spores. The spores are basically like tiny eggs, that help the mushroom reproduce. Many mushrooms have a stem, a cap, and “gill” like structures underneath the cap, but they can come in all shapes and sizes.
Mushrooms grow by extending their “mycelia” into the wood–white thread-like growths put out by the mushroom to help it reproduce. The mushroom cap we usually see is only reproductive part of the mushroom. The mycelia grow along dead trees and absorb nutrients by secreting enzymes to make the wood soft and to digest it on the outside. Eventually two different mycelia meet and merge and reproduce into the “fruiting bodies”–the mushroom caps. These caps produce spores, which are released into the forest and go on to produce more mushrooms.
One the mushroom starts to break down the wood, many other insects can start eating the wood and using it as shelter.
Ask students if they have ever seen mushrooms before, or maybe even gone hunting for them with their families. Do they know if a mushroom is a plant, animal, or fungi?
Take students outside and search for fresh, mature mushrooms. After finding enough, take them inside and have students remove the stems so only cap is left. Place the cap “gill-side-down” on a white piece of paper, and cover it with a plastic cup.
Leave for a few hours. It could take 1 to 15 hours for the spore print to appear, so it might be best to set this up before students leave for the day and check on them in the morning. The mushroom caps should not be left for more than 24 hours, as they start to decay at that point.
After students have a spore print, have them do research online to see if they can identify just what species their mushroom was.
Ask students why mushrooms are an important part of nature. How do they reproduce?
Ask students to search around their own homes for other types of mushrooms and bring in the spore prints to compare.