Banister was born in Glousterchire, England, in 1650. He attended Oxford and visited Virginia to study plants, and was the first university-trained naturalist to send specimens back to England. He later lived in Virginia until he died in 1692. Banister was one of the founders of the College of William and Mary. During his time in Virginia, he acquired many colleagues and made a plant catalog in Historia plantarum. As well as focusing on his own work, Banister also assisted Linnaeus with organization of American plants.
Banister was included in the Virginia group of cottages at Mountain Lake Biological station. Lewis described him as “the first botanist, missionary of the Church of England.”