Ladislav Hagara: Fungi not just as a hobby

23. Jun. 2017 • Prírodné vedy

Ladislav Hagara: Fungi not just as a hobby

The leading Slovak mycologist, writer and publicist PhDr. Ladislav Hagara, PhD. (1944), comes from Nováky. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of the Comenius University in Bratislava, where he also completed his postgradual studies in publishing. He completed another postgradual studies in Mycology at the Botanical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, which he concluded by publishing the first monograph of corticioid fungi in Slovakia (group Hyphodontia in Slovakia).

He worked as an editor in the publishing house Osveta in Martin and Slovenský spisovateľ in Bratislava between 1990 and 1998, he worked as Director of the magazine publishing house Živena, joint stock company; then he was a freelancer and devoted his time to the research of fungi species distribution in Slovakia. Since 1998, he has been the chairman of the Society for Fungi Research and since 2015 also the chairman of the Slovak Mycological Society at the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

He has published the novels Steps of time (1979), fictions Arsenic (1984), Solstice (1978), Gemini (1990) and fiction novel Nodes (1990). He is the author or the principal co-author of 36 books dedicated to fungi published in Slovak, Czech, German, French, Dutch and Hungarian, and in more than half a million prints in total.

He himself has published: Atlas of fungi (1987, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002), Atlas of fungi (1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2002), Fungi – doubles (1992), Encyclopédie Illustrée les Champignons (1995, 1997), Illustriertes Lexikon der Pilze (1996), Das grosse farbige Handbuch der Pilze (1996), Encyclopedie van paddestoelen (1997), Houby (1999), Gombák képes enciklopédiája (1999), Fungi (2006), and Otto’s encyclopaedia of fungi (2015).

He has published, in cooperation with V. Antonín and J. Baier: Fungi (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), Les Champignons (2000), Great Atlas of Fungi (2005, 2010) and Great Atlas of Fungi (2005, 2010). He has published, in cooperation with O. Jindřich and A. Vít: Fungi. Atlas of edible mushrooms with proven recipes (2015) and Fungi.

M. BARTOŠOVIČOVÁ: How did you get to mycology? Allegedly, you have been fascinated by fungi since childhood.

L. HAGARA: Indeed, ever since my pre-school age, I used to go mushroom picking in the woods around Nováky where I grew up with my mother, who was passionate mushroom hunter. She taught me to recognise the species that she collected. It was not only mushrooms or bolete fungus, but also, for example, coral mushrooms (Ramaria genus). Until 1980, I was just a practical mushroom hunter and mycofil. I switched to professional career in 1980, when I started to map the occurrence of mushrooms near our cottage in Bystrička near Martin. Since then, I have collected in herbarium, i.e. dried, microscoped, identified and stored in envelopes with labels bearing the name of the given item and data about the site of discovery, biotope, the date, the finder and the designator, all found and photographed mushrooms. In 37 years of mycofloristic research, I have processed more than 20,000 herbarium items.

Dr. Ladislav Hagara

In which areas of Slovakia have you mapped the spread and occurrence of mushrooms?

Until 1987, I have lived in Martin and most of the field trips took place in the nearby geomorphological units in Little Fatra, Great Fatra, the Turiec Basin and Žiar. I also repeatedly mycologised in Upper Nitra Basin, Strážov Mountains, Tríbeč, Sub-Tatra Basin, Štiavnica Mountains and Burda. In March 1987, I moved with my family to Bratislava, where I focused mainly on the mycofloristic research of the Little Carpathians, Danubian Flat, the Borse Plain, and the White Carpathians. With particular pleasure, I mapped the occurrence of woody mushrooms in our primeval forests, especially in Primeval forest of Dobroč, Primeval forest of Badín, Stužica primeval forest, Udava primeval forest, and Havešov primeval forest. These field trips often provided me with valuable bonus. For example, on 30 September 2009 in the Primeval forest of Dobroč, I spent around three hours near the rotting remains of the highest Slovak fir (56m), which has been fallen since 1964. I inspected all the preserved plates from its trunk and found seven kinds of crust fungi. Nobody can figure out how many kinds of fungi have grown on it over the past 45 years.

Which groups of fungi have you focused on in your field surveys?  

Random self-portrait of Ladislav HagaraUntil 1995, I've had a wide focus, but I preferred the mapping of Agaricales and Boletaceae. Since 1995, I have fundamentally changed my focus – I have started to almost exclusively focus on corticoid fungi, i.e. crust fungi. I had little knowledge about them at that time. Actually, I have seen them only rarely, as they usually grow on the bottom side of the dead tree trunks or branches. At the first sight, they are unattractive, little differentiated coatings with a smooth, granular or spiny surface. There are hundreds of these “laborious” fungi growing in our territory. They, together with bacteria, play a decisive role in the decomposition of dead parts of the woods and the nutrient cycle in the forests. Without them, the trees would starve out and drown in their own waste.

What prompted you to study these tree mushrooms?

There were several impulses. On our territory, these tree mushrooms had been collected and herbalised by Andrej Kmeť, a parish priest from Prenčov. That was taking place at the end of the 19th century. Then, these mushrooms were left without a goodman for a hundred years. In the second half of the 20th century, the Czech mycologists Zdeněk Pouzar and František Kotlaba had merit in their mapping in Slovakia. My friend Petr Vampola has continued their mission, studying the polypores of Slovakia, which are characterised by tubular hymenophore. He had been persuading me and soon convinced me about the inner – microscopic – beauty of these “parentless” wood coatings, during the first joint field trips to the Slovak primeval forests. I have been hooked ever since.

I dedicate most of the days of the year to the collection, study, determination and herbalisation of the corticoid fungi. I have concentrated all the items of these fungi stored in Czech herbariums and I am currently working on reviewing and identifying items from Andrej Kmeťo’s huge collection of tree mushrooms, which is stored in the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava. This year, as if I did not have enough on my shoulders, I invited all regional amateur mycoflorists on the Nahuby website, to collect the crust fungi in their surroundings and send them to me for identification.

My ambition is to concentrate as many herbarium items related to the spread of these fungi in Slovakia as possible. Otto’s Encyclopedia of FungiThis way, new items will add up to the thousands of items I have already recorded, even from areas I cannot reach myself. At the end of this effort, the Catalogue of Corticoid Fungi of Slovakia should be published, detailing each preserved finding.

The scope of the continuous 32-year work associated with the research and mapping of fungi spread is truly respectable. Especially so if we consider that Dr. Ladislav Hagara has done all of this on a voluntary basis alongside his day job, which is not related to fungi, in his free time and at his own expense. In addition, he has authored the preparation and published a number of books about fungi. The last one – Otto’s Encyclopedia of Fungi – is even a candidate for registration in the Guinness Book of Records, because it is the world’s largest atlas of fungi.

What can you tell us about the preparation and content of the Otto’s Encyclopaedia of Fungi?

I have been preparing for this work since 1980, when I started with the professional self-study of the fungi and the continuous compiling of mycological herbarium. Gradually, I have not only acquired new knowledge and experience, but also photos of mapped fungi species. Without this, I could not take the opportunity to prepare such an extensive work and process it in four years.

The work of choosing from the tens of thousands photos originating both from my photo album and the collections of hundreds of other photographers has taken one and a half years. It has taken another year and a half to finish my author’s work on the descriptions of displayed fungi. After submitting the text and image materials, I worked closely with the Desktop Publishing Operator, graphic designer, and language editorial staff for the technical preparation of the print model (scans and colour corrections of slides, image slides, double correction of broken text, Slovak and Latin registers of included species).

Even though the encyclopaedia was printed on a thin 80-gram paper, its weight exceeded 4 kg. The work has 1152 pages of expanded A4 format and provides a description of 3230 types of fungi, which are displayed on 4200 colour photographs to bring closer the colour and shape variation of some species.

What do you dedicate your time to now?

I use every opportunity for further field exploration of fungi spread. I work almost daily on the review of more than hundred-year’s old items from Kmeťo’s items collection I operatively determine new findings of crust fungi that I receive from different parts of Slovakia and gradually update the verified additions to the mentioned catalogue of crust fungi. I also write articles for Slovak and Czech mycological journals.

What is the mission of the Slovak Mycological Society of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and what activities do you focus on?

Our mycological society comprises mycologists, as well as practical Octopus stinkhorn (Clathrus archeri). Photo: Ladislav Hagaramushroom hunters and mycophiles. Together with Czech friends, they meet each year in June for three days – once on the Slovak and once on the Moravian side of our borders. Dozens of them are also participating in weekly mycological days, during which we mapped the occurrence of fungi in the East Carpathian forests in October 2016. From May till November, our members manage a Monday’s Fungi Advisory Clinic in the Slovak National Museum. We also meet during the March opening and the November ‘locking’ of the forest. Our members organise autumn exhibitions of fungi, lectures and other public events in several places of Slovakia. We also organise professional and scientific activities (seminars, conferences, mycofloristic research). We publish colourful magazines The Rapporteur of Slovak Mycological Society and Catathelasma (in English).

Octopus stinkhorn (Clathrus archeri). This fungus comes from Australia; it appeared in Europe in 1920. In the last 2-3 decades, it has spread to the colder areas of Slovakia. Its development begins in an suberumpent egg. When the egg climbs into the light, it bursts and 4-6 red arms, 5-12 cm in length grows out of it.

How do you relax?

Hundreds and hundreds of hours spent each year microscoping fungi are really exhausting, hurting the eyes, legs and spine. Relaxation comes in the nature, while mapping fungi and all-day walks in favourite spots, most often in Záhorie, in the wider surroundings of Šaštín. I balance myself there, because I do not feel the need to go on a special vacation. Fortunately, my wife has similar inclination. While our grandchildren were young, we used to take them for holiday trips to the House of Slovak Writers in Budmerice or Starý Smokovec. Of course, I have hundreds of “holiday” fungi in my herbarium also from these two locations. Without them, I would probably return from vacation not relaxed.


The interview was prepared by: Marta Bartošovičová, NCP S&T within SCSTI

Photo: from the archive of PhDr. Ladislav Hagara, PhD.


PhDr. Ladislav Hagara, PhD., together with Ing. Anton Janitor, CSc., will be the guests of the Science in the CENTRE on 29 June 2017 at 17.00., where they will present the topic: Fungi in the nature and in our lives. Scientific Café will take place in the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information, Lamačská cesta 8/A, Bratislava.

June’s Scientific Café is the side event of the European Researchers’ Night 2017.


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