Bonpland's real name was Goujand, and he was born at La Rochelle. After serving as a surgeon in the French army and studying under J.N. Corvisart at Paris, he accompanied Alexander von Humboldt during five years of travel in Mexico, Colombia and the districts bordering on the Orinoco and Amazon. In these explorations he collected and classified about 6000 plants which were until then mostly unknown in Europe, which he afterwards described in Plantes equinoxiales (Paris, 1808-1816).
On returning to Paris he received a pension and the superintendence of the gardens at Malmaison, and published Monographie des Melastomes (1806), and Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre (1813). In 1816 he set out, taking with him various European plants, for Buenos Aires, where he was elected professor of natural history, an office which he soon left in order to explore central South America. While journeying to Bolivia he was arrested in 1821, by command of Dr Francia, the dictator of Paraguay, who detained him until 1831. On regaining liberty he resided at San Borga in the province of Corrientes, until his removal in 1853 to Santa Anna, where he died.