Peak season ahead for mushroom-hunters reeling from dry spell

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

Conditions in the last two weeks of September are often among the best for engaging in a favourite Czech pastime – mushroom picking. In early autumn, temperatures cool so the morning dew doesn’t evaporate quickly, giving forest fungi just the right amount of dampness to thrive.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
The weather outlook in the Czech Republic this weekend is for cloudy skies with a chance of light rain and temperatures in the teens. Perfect conditions for hunting mushrooms, which means that if you are planning a walk in just about any coniferous forest, you’re bound to come across a wide variety of knife-wielding Czechs, in search of some of the 35 different kinds of edible mushrooms that grow here.

According to the University of Life Sciences annual report, Czechs picked around 27,700 tonnes of mushrooms in 2017, which is about seven kilos per household, with a street value of 4.6 billion crowns. Last year’s yields of the forest fungi were boosted by favourable weather conditions, meaning enough rainfall and humidity. But the summer of 2018 was among the hottest on record.

So, are there any mushrooms to be had?

“My friend says nothing grows. But my husband and I are passionate about mushrooms. We know the terrain here, and we ride our bikes. So, we cover a lot of ground and can always find something. This year, we have found about forty penny buns.”

That was Kristýna, one of countless Prague residents who plan ever more frequent escapes to the forests while the getting is good. She is especially proud to have collected so many of the prized – and rather sticky – Boletus variety, with the round reddish-brown caps.

Jana, another mushroom enthusiast encountered on the trail has proven less adept in the hunter-gatherer department, and her special-purpose woven basket is far from overflowing.

Photo: Miloš Turek
“To tell you the truth, it hasn’t really been worth it. Last year, we had a full basket. And this year? Look in the basket. Nothing to write home about.”

Jiří Burel, author of the Atlas of Mushrooms, confirms that the pickings have indeed been slim, thus far.

“A wave of mushroom growth is beginning, which will surely please all expert mushrooms hunters and laymen alike because the mushroom that will grow most are the hřib smrkový (Boletus edulis) type. This season has been well below average. But we expect that – if the weather is good – the big wave will peak in the next fourteen days.”

If you are a ‘layperson’ and do fancy giving mushroom-picking a go this rainy weekend, bear in mind the old Czech adage “Všechny houby jsou jedlé, ale některé jenom jednou”, which translates as “every mushroom is edible, but some only once.”