Throughout the late summer and autumn in Czechoslovakia, the smell of mushrooms drying in the sun or over stoves permeates the country; and people swap recipes on how to cook or preserve them.

Although they grow almost everywhere in the world, only in Czechoslovakia can mushroom picking be called a national craze.

Almost every Czechoslovak collects mushrooms. The average picker can recognize between five and 20 kinds, including the poisonous ones. There are some experts who can recognize up to 500 varieties.

Because so many people in the country know at least something about mushrooms, there is a danger of over-confidence. The result is the an average of seven to 10 people are poisoned and die every year.

This year, the figures are likely to be even worse. Already, seven people in Slovakia have died after eating poisonous mushrooms and the season is not yet over.

A main purpose of the Czechoslovak Mycological (study of fungi) Society is to educate the public on which mushrooms to park and which to avoid, as well as those that have to be prepared in special ways.

The most popular mushrooms, and best known, are of the Boletus variety, of which there are more than 40 types. This is a medium-sized mushroom with a large brownish umbrella and a satiny texture.

Other common varieties include the Cawtarellus. Agaricef and Champignon varieties, the latter being the ones most commonly cultivated for marketing.These are also the ones usually eaten in the west, although they are generally considered inferior here.

But there are also the poisonous mushrooms, many of which look very similar to edible mushrooms.

"They only way to avoid getting into trouble is to really know which mushrooms are which," an expert said.

"There is no way of testing them, you just have to know what the poisonous ones look like and leave them alone," he added.