08 • 08 • 2019

Latvia is Home to Europe's Most Active Mushroom Pickers

senes ed ne tikai cilveki. img 0914 7

August is the month when Latvia's forests are full of people. Most visitors indulge in a popular activity - mushroom picking, appreciating the wide variety of mushroom species available for human consumption.

The world of mushrooms is a diverse, species-rich country of living organisms. Well over four thousand species of fungi have been identified in Latvia. However, microscopic fungi predominate in terms of the number of species - macroscopic fungi are much less numerous. And cap mushroom species only make up about a quarter of mushroom species.

Macroscopic fungus (mycelium) most often develops in soil, litter, decay wood and is usually perennial. When the time comes, sporadic organs, known as fruit bodies are formed on the mycelium every year. These formations have a relatively short natural lifespan. And it gets even shorter when it comes into the hands of mushroom pickers.

senes ir dazadas. img 4353 8

Latvian forests are freely accessible to everyone

It is estimated that mushroom picking is the favourite form of active recreation for about a half of Latvia's population. This is also the main reason why people in Latvia are attracted to the forest. It turns out that Latvians are the most active mushroom pickers in Europe, leaving the Finns in the second place. For some people, mushroom picking is just a hobby or a chance to relax in the woods, but for others it is a hard driving force, even addiction. There is also a number of people who make their livelihood on picking and selling mushrooms and, often mushrooms are picked both for own consumption and for trade.

In a number of European countries, many species of mushrooms have become rare due to urbanization, and some species have even disappeared. But we still have a plenty of them! Moreover, it should be noted that Latvia is among the few countries in Europe where everyone is free to pick mushrooms and many other forest goodies in the public forests. True, mushroom picking is also relatively freely available in Scandinavia, whereas in other so-called “developed” European countries, people can no longer walk where they want, and are only allowed to move around specially designated areas.

senes ir dazadas. img 4353 26

Mushrooms and trees have a special relationship

Almost half a thousand of the mushroom species living in Latvia are recognized as “edible” (the word is put in quotation marks, because most of these fungi can only be used for human consumption after special preparation), but average mushroom pickers usually pick only a few dozen of species of mushrooms for human consumption. It should be noted here that at the international level, there is not even a common understanding about some species as to whether they should be classified as “edible” or “non-edible”.

The “edible'” mushrooms are mainly (but not exclusively!) cap mushrooms. Most of them belong to the so-called mycorrhiza (from Greek: mycosis - fungus, rhiza - root) fungi, or fungi the mycelium of which lives in close interaction with the roots of a tree, shrub or other plant. The manifestation of this interaction is that the filamentous structures of a fungus (scientifically, hyphae) grow densely interwoven or even grow into small plant roots and then take in the plant nutrients it needs (mainly carbohydrates), while the plant (with the help of the fungus) uses minerals (mainly phosphorus, nitrogen) and water intake.

Experienced mushroom pickers know that plants cannot survive without fungi, and vice versa, so when looking for the fruit body of a particular species of fungi, they look for plants friendly to this fungi - mainly specific tree species.

senes ir dazadas. img 4353 2

With responsibility for fungi and the forest

Wherever mushroom fruit bodies are collected for consumption, only the known findings must be taken, the ones concerning which there is no doubt that they are not poisonous!

By the way, even some species of amanitas are not poisonous! Perhaps that is why people say that there are non-poisonous mushrooms that “pretend” to be poisonous? But maybe on the contrary - poisonous mushrooms “behave” like non-poisonous? Many people in Latvia get poisoned every year by eating mushrooms. Fungi are known to have high absorptive capacity (they may have absorbed and may contain large amounts of substances harmful to people), so mushrooms growing near landfills, highways and cities should not be eaten.

Poisonous, inedible, unrecognized and contaminated mushrooms should remain in the woods or in the wild!

Fungi are different

It should not be forgotten that Latvia is also home to rare (therefore protected!) mushroom species. Damage or destruction may result in a fine. Interestingly, there are two species of amanitas among the mushrooms protected in Latvia. One of these two is the Amanita eliae, the other - the Amanita strobiliformis. 

It is also important to treat fungi with dignity and take care of them as much as possible.

For mycorrhizal fungi, the fungus filaments are not located deep in the ground but twine in the topsoil. Damage to the soil surface can also damage the fungus. It is important not to damage the soil surface too much when picking mushrooms.

The method of picking mushrooms, however, has no significant effect on the mycelium: it does not matter whether the fruit bodies are cut, pulled or screwed out. Fungi and other forest organisms are affected by how gentle (or ruthless) the process is.

When going to the forest, keep in mind Section 6 of Chapter II the Forest Law (“Right to stay in the forest”): “It is an obligation of a person, while staying in a forest, to observe forest fire safety regulations, not to damage forest soil and forest infrastructure, not to pollute the forest with waste, observe the prescribed requirements regarding utilisation of rest areas, not to destroy bird nests and ant hills, and not to otherwise harm wild plants and animals ...”

Lazier mushroom pickers often damage the forest, trying to drive as close as possible to a selected mushrooming site. If this cannot be done without driving off the road, car wheels damage the forest cover. Moreover, in dry weather, such trips can cause a forest fire. Often, vehicles are also left in the middle of a road; so remember to park them in a special parking area or close to the roadside, since other people and foresters may also need to use the carriageway!

It is also worth remembering that you are not alone in the forest. Don't make too much noise! Watch out where you put your foot! Experienced mushroom pickers can find a plenty of mushrooms. But do you need to put everything you see in your basket!? It is not only human beings who feed on mushroom fruit bodies.

senes ed ne tikai cilveki. img 4201 copy

Mushroom worms are no worms at all

Mushrooms are eaten by squirrels, mouse-like rodents, and other mammals. Also slugs, beetles (bambali, click beetles and other beetles) and other animals like mushrooms. However, other invertebrates are the main enemies of mushrooms. Who? If the mushroom pickers could see them there in the woods, some mushrooms might no longer be eaten.

Yes, barely out of the ground, outwardly healthy, seemingly intact mushroom fruit body often tends to be full of eggs of various creatures. If there were no mushrooms, there would be no such worms. Offspring of hundreds of species of diptera (mosquitoes and flies) develop on mushrooms, including, of course, the so called mushroom worms.

Mushrooms are also home to real worms - small sized nematodes. Many of the inhabitants of the fungus fruit body (eggs, insect larvae, worms) cannot be seen by the naked eye, so people eat them without even realizing it. Small quantities of these mushroom worms do not cause any harm to people, but densely inhabited mushrooms should not be consumed because they already develop bacteria.

If the desire for mushrooming has decreased, it is always worth remembering that mushroom picking can be done not only with a basket and a knife, but also with a camera.