Torrey, John

American botanist and chemist

John Torrey was the preeminent botanist in the United States during the nineteenth century. Born in New York City and trained as a physician, chemist, and mineralogist, he taught at West Point, the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, and Princeton University. Torrey became the central figure in classifying the thousands of new plants discovered by explorers during the period of westward expansion, and he wrote numerous scientific monographs on the flora of the American West.

Torrey introduced to the United States the natural system of classification developed by his European contemporaries Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and Augustin de Candolle, overthrowing the sexual system of classification of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. In 1833 Torrey began his work with American botanist Asa Gray, first as teacher and later as partner, and by 1843 Torrey and Gray had published two volumes of the Flora of North America.

Throughout his life, Torrey developed a large and significant herbarium, housing thousands of plant specimens. His collection is the heart of the herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden. Torrey's name is found in a genus of evergreen trees, Torreya, as well as numerous plant species names. The Torrey Botanical Society is a national scientific organization promoting interest in and understanding of botany.

SEE ALSO Gray, Asa ; Linnaeus, Carolus

Richard Robinson


Isely, Duane. One Hundred and One Botanists. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1994.

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