MODOT herbicide truck next to the kudzu patch and warning sign.
Guest post by Steven Callen, Miller Lab PhD candidate
The week before last was a crazy, lucky (or should it be crazy lucky?) week of field work for my pollination study on kudzu. One day during the week, my collaborators from the Bernhardt lab (Ren and Justin) and I had gotten a late break to the day and arrived in the field a little later than expected. After working for a few hours, while we were preparing to leave, we heard a loud banging sound coming from around the corner of the kudzu population. After getting in the car to leave, we drove past the area where the sound was emanating from and discovered it to be a Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) worker (or should I call him an angel?) hammering a sign into the ground that read: "Caution: Herbicide Applied." This obviously raised alarms in my head, as we had spent every day of the previous two weeks treating flowers for our experiments and it seemed like they were doomed. On the advice of Justin, I looped the car around, pulled off to the side of the road, and went to speak with the MODOT angel. We spoke at length about this kudzu population and about its history and future of eradication, during which he told me of their plans to shower this population with a cocktail of three herbicides... within the hour! After further explaining our project to him, he suggested that he could call his supervisor, who could perhaps postpone the spraying until our work was completed, if we had a permit from them. We did not. Concluding that nothing could be done, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and looped the car around to shoot some photos of the signs and, after being there for about 5 minutes, also of the big tanker trucks that arrived with the herbicide.
My "MODOT angel" directs the trucks where to park.
After snapping the photos and preparing myself for the impending destruction of our hard work, I was surprised to be waved back over to the site by my MODOT angel, who ushered my car into a spot nestled between the two herbicide trucks. He then explained to me that he took a chance and called his supervisor anyway, just on the off chance that something could be done. Apparently, many of the bosses at MODOT had received their education from St. Louis University, and, consequently, he thought they might be willing to work around my project. As it turns out, he was right! After one supervisor talked to the next, who talked to the next up the chain of command, I was able to speak to one of them about the project, gave him Dr. Miller's contact information, and was told that they would hold off on spraying for at least a few days until they could learn more about our study and determine if they could postpone spraying for about a month. After waiting around and speaking with them for a little while longer, it was my delight to see the trucks pull away, with the kudzu patch (or, really, the more important part - our pollination treatments) having survived to see another day.
A few days later I received an e-mail from one of the supervisors at MODOT, who explained that they had spoken with Dr. Miller about the project, that they were interested in what we were doing and the potential help our results could offer kudzu's future control and management, and that they agreed to postpone the spraying until our experiments were over! Additionally, this MODOT supervisor thought our work might be interesting to the journalists at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and she put us in contact with one of the journalists there. In about the time it takes kudzu to grow a foot (which is to say, one day), the reporter had contacted me, expressed her desire to interview us, and scheduled a time to join us in the field with a photographer. This past Tuesday they did indeed join Ren and me at our field site, and they spent about an hour or so talking to us, taking photos, and just being amazed at this spectacular vine. Yesterday, Sunday, September 1, the St. Louis Post Dispatch published the article about our work on the front page of the Community section of the paper. I think it was a terrific article. If you have the time, please take a look at it and let me know what you think!
Miller Lab members