The Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island is joining a worldwide effort to plant 1.5 million daffodils, to memorialize the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust during World War II.

The QCBC (2525 4th Ave., Rock Island) is the first Illinois location outside the Chicago area that’s part of The Daffodil Project. So far, there have been 758,000 daffodils planted in over 372 sites around the world, the vast majority of which are in the U.S.

The shape and color of the flowers represent yellow stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, according to the project website.

“Yellow is the color of remembrance. Daffodils represent our poignant hope for the future,” the site says. “They are resilient and return with a burst of color each spring, signifying hope, renewal and beauty. The daffodils also honor those who survived the Holocaust and went on to build new lives after this dark and difficult period.”

Botanical Center executive director Ryan Wille said that while the project has been going many years, the QC center has never been part of it. They plan to plant 250 bulbs on one day in September (to bloom next spring) and then 250 more in fall 2023.

The 250 new daffodils will be planted behind the fence next to the Botanical Center’s new Ability Garden (photo by Jonathan Turner).

A QCBC board member, Melanie Shields, works with Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, and heard about Daffodil Project.

“We share information with the Atlanta Botanical Garden,” Wille said this week, noting the project is headquartered in Atlanta.

In that city, the Downtown Daffodil Project contributes to the worldwide effort by creating a “ribbon of consciousness” between the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the King Center. The Project continues to grow, now at 275,000 daffodils across the center city.

The Rock Island daffodils will be just behind the fence just across from the new Ability Garden at the QCBC entrance.

“The Daffodil Project provides wonderful signage, educational materials,” Wille said. The center will partner with Ross for the planting and they’ll put out a call for volunteers to plant daffodil bulbs.

“We’ll look for people who can find some meaning coming out,” Wille said. “We really want it to be a community thing.”

Ryan Wille is executive director of the Quad City Botanical Center, Rock Island.

There are very few other locations in Illinois and Iowa part of the Daffodil Project.

“It’s very popular in the East Coast; the Atlanta gardens has a beautiful collection,” Wille said. “Why not? We’re trying to be representative of the community that we serve here in our mission, and what better way to do it, than show that we’re here for every part of the Quad Cities?”

The QCBC may continue to be part of it past 2023, up to 1,000 daffodils.

“A big part of our strategic plan that we completed last fall is to keep refreshing things,” Wille said. “People want to see something different every time they come here, so the more we can help refresh things, the better.”

Daffodils could be part of the expansion of the Children’s Garden, he said.

“We’re trying to do our part, despite not having acres and acres of gardens,” Wille said of the five-acre grounds. “I think bringing awareness to it, being inclusive to the Quad Cities is our responsibility.”

The gates near the entrance at QC Botanical Center, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island, may shelter bulbs this fall planted for the Daffodil Project (photo by Jonathan Turner).

The center will launch some related educational programming, in partnership with the Daffodil Project, including guest speakers.

The plantings will be part of QCBC’s annual budget, in creating new exhibits, Wille said.

Davenport daffodils

Rabbi Linda Bertenthal – who serves the QC Jewish communities Temple Emanuel and Congregation Beth Israel in Davenport – requested 500 bulbs last fall, which she shared with their neighbor Edwards Congregational (United Church of Christ), and those daffodils bloomed this spring. They’re not currently visible.

“We didn’t have room for all of them, and they said they’d love to be part of it,” Bertenthal said Wednesday of Edwards’ pastor, Lisa Gaston. They’re at 2215 E. Kimberly Road, and Edwards is at 3420 Jersey Ridge Road.

Daffodils for the worldwide project bloomed this past April at Edwards Congregational UCC, Davenport.

“They set up their own Holocaust Memorial Garden. We loaned them children‘s books about the Holocaust and they do their own educational programs, in harmony with each other,” the rabbi said. The Jewish Beit Shalom site didn’t need their Daffodil Project sign, so they have it to Edwards.

“Everyone here knew what the Daffodil Project was about,” Bertenthal said.

The project is an initiative of Am Yisrael Chai, a nonprofit Holocaust Education and Genocide Awareness Organization. Each year, they host a community event in Atlanta, Georgia to commemorate the Holocaust and to celebrate survival and success.

During the Holocaust, one and a half million children were senselessly murdered in Nazi-occupied Europe. No one knows what kind of lives these children would have gone on to lead, the project site says.

The Daffodil Project aims to build a Living Holocaust Memorial by planting 1.5 million daffodils around the world in memory of the children and in support for children who continue to suffer in the face of genocide and humanitarian crises in the world today.

In Iowa, there are Jewish congregations in the Iowa City and Des Moines areas that also have planted the flowers. The Daffodil Project gives the first 250 bulbs for free to participating groups.

Daffodils in the parking lot of Beit Shalom Jewish Community, 2215 E. Kimberly Road, Davenport.

Of the QCBC getting involved, Bertenthal said: “I think it’s a really cool thing.”

“We did it as a project of our joint religious school; two congregations share a religious school,” she said, noting the Jewish Federation also is at their Davenport building, which opened last September (after Congregation Beth Israel left the old Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island).

“We all had a certain measure of trepidation of how this was going to work,” Bertenthal said of having her two congregations under one roof. “I’m so delighted how well it’s worked. It’s exceeded my expectations.”

Ironically, other than Poland (the home of major Nazi concentration camps), not many cities in Europe have taken part in Daffodil Project.

“It would be sweet to see them all over Europe,” Bertenthal said. “The time in which we’re living now, there’s less of a worldwide commitment to ‘Never Again,’” she said of preventing another Holocaust (which killed 6 million Jews).

“I just think in Europe and United States, a lot of people are grabbing back on to those horrible ideologies again,” she said.

Partnering with Atlanta

Wille of QCBC first visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden in 2011, when he saw some of the daffodils.

“It’s such a huge garden, and I was there for a conference,” Wille said. “The things they do down there are so grand. They’ve got the space and the money for it. It’s an impressive garden, if you ever get the chance to see it. They’re so open to us and gardens around the country, with resources.”

“We’ve learned a lot, just by having contact with their educational department,” he said.

In support of the Daffodil Project, the Daffodil Celebration takes place in Downtown Atlanta every year in early spring. They work with community partners to celebrate and raise awareness of this project through events, self-guided tours, and photography contests.

In the fall, during bulb planting season, they host the Downtown Daffodil Dash 5K, a race and fun run that begins and ends in Woodruff Park, to raise awareness and funds for the project.

For more information on the project, click HERE.