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Mushroom hunting a national pastime in Czech Republic July 23, 2005 - radio.cz
Czech forests have started filling up with mushrooms again and Czechs are enjoying this national pastime to the full. Even a closely watched meeting between the country's Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and former premier Milos Zeman took journalists into the forest as the two men decided to spend Saturday afternoon picking mushrooms. Not every mushroom enthusiast gets that kind of coverage - but you can do it, even if you are not the prime minister.
For Czechs mushrooms are important enough to make the prime time news and they do so at least once a week. All you have to do is come upon a prize find: a huge mushroom weighing several kilos or one mushroom growing from the cap of another, as Mr. Zdenek Fencl did this week.
The less popular way to find yourself on the evening news is to eat a poisonous mushroom. Which some people occasionally do as well, despite the fact that Czechs probably have the best general knowledge about the different varieties of mushrooms in the world. Most people recognize dozens of them and know exactly how they taste best.
Although Czechs are well-versed in mushrooms few of them know that one type of mushroom - the Armillaria Mellea - known informally as Vaclavka - which many Czechs pick is actually a deadly killer. Not of humans - since most people know they have to cook it for at least 30 minutes because it could be toxic if eaten raw. The Vaclavka kills trees. Predominantly spruce trees - the mushroom grows into their root system and literally draws on their juices, drying them out until the trees die. The Vaclavka is now said to be as dangerous as the bark beetle and thousands of trees have been completely destroyed by it.
The Trebic region reports damages on a territory of 50 thousand cubic metres. Even the wood from these trees is hard to sell because it is dry and damaged by the mushroom. And although there are now armies of mushroom pickers out there, picking the Vaclavka, it's of little help to the endangered spruce trees because the fungus is still there in the undergrowth.