Phipps exhibit transports viewers

The Phipps Conservatory exhibit includes an Indian bazaar featuring native Indian teas and spices. (credit: Kelsey Scott/) The Phipps Conservatory exhibit includes an Indian bazaar featuring native Indian teas and spices. (credit: Kelsey Scott/)

The perfect exotic escape from midterm stress lies not across the ocean, but simply across campus in the Tropical Forest India exhibit at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

According to the exhibition website, Tropical Forest India was exhaustively researched and planned for over a year by Assistant Curator of Horticulture Ben Dunigan and interpretive specialist Jordyn Melino, and this extensive research shows in the final product. The exhibit is more than just a collection of plants: It’s a green teleporter of flora and fauna that whisks you away to the forests of India.

Cheery impatiens are dotted throughout, accompanied by tea plants. Palms with gigantic leaves stand over hundreds of plant varieties. The impossibly thick vegetation is swathed in fog from a fog machine. A “river” flows through the room that houses the exhibit, lined with dainty purple blooms and vibrant green leaves.

The exhibit goes beyond just displaying tropical plants and some dirt, incorporating interesting cultural tidbits and extra displays throughout. Among these are waterfalls, the river, and a quaint Indian bazaar that displays different varieties of teas and spices native to the country. Also featured is a collection of field research that highlights the work of botanists around the world, an outpost that features the medicinal uses of the plants and, of course, as much tropical forest as can be packed into one room in Pittsburgh.

The vast array of species spills over from the carefully designed beds onto the winding pathway, truly transforming the room into a little slice of paradise. Immediately upon walking through the doorway — which is decorated with an Indian temple façade — visitors experience a sense of peace and tranquility mixed with a dose of ancient wisdom. Plants labeled with tags that beg, “Smell me, I’m fragrant!” are the first to welcome visitors with their powerful and sweet scent, setting the vibe for the entire exhibit. At the charming Indian bazaar just down the path from the waterfall, samples of tea and spices create an aromatic bouquet.

Besides the pleasant scents and the explosion of exotic flora, the exhibit is packed with signposts that feature interesting facts about the country, its culture, and its native plants. The Ayurvedic healing garden and outpost highlight the interwoven histories of the religious culture and medicinal uses of the plants growing in the exhibit. It’s interesting and educational to browse the easy-to-ingest information presented in a fun, original way, and to find out how many uses the Indian culture has for the plants that surround it.

A unique Pittsburgh gem, Phipps is a wonderful escape that mesmerizes and immediately calms. There’s something about being surrounded by lush greenery that feels cleansing and healthy. Take advantage of this amazing place: It’s just across Flagstaff Hill, it’s free for Carnegie Mellon students, and it’s open until 10 p.m. on Friday nights.