See study by A. D. Rodgers (1965); catalog of Torrey's manuscripts in the New York Botanical Garden Library, comp. by S. Lenley et al. (1973).
Torrey was born in New York. When he was 15 or 16 years of age his father received a prison appointment at Greenwich, and there he made the acquaintance of Amos Eaton, a pioneer of natural history studies in America. He thus learned the elements of botany, as well as something of mineralogy and chemistry. In 1815 he began the study of medicine, qualifying in 1818. In the following year he issued his Catalogue of Plants growing spontaneously within Thirty Miles of the City of New York, and in 1824 he issued the first and only volume of his Flora of the Northern and Middle States. In the same year he obtained the chair of chemistry and geology at West Point military academy, and three years later the professorship of chemistry and botany in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.
In 1836 he was appointed botanist to the state of New York and produced his Flora of that state in 1843; while from 1838 to 1843 he carried on the publication of the earlier portions of Flora of North America, with the assistance of his pupil, Asa Gray. From 1853 he was chief assayer to the United States assay office, but he continued to take an interest in botanical teaching until his death.
Torrey made over his valuable herbarium and botanical library to Columbia College in 1860, and he was the first president of the Torrey Botanical Club in 1873. His name is commemorated in the small coniferous genus Torreya, found in North America, China and Japan. T. taxifolia, a native of Florida, is known as the Florida torreya, Torrey nutmeg, or stinking-cedar; and also in the Torrey pine, Pinus torreyana from southern California. He also first described the carnivorous plant genus Darlingtonia, which he named after a friend.