He was the son of Johann Friedrich Jakob Reichenbach, the author in 1818 of the first Greek-German dictionary. He was the father of Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach, equally a botanist and an eminent orchid specialist.
Reichenbach was born in Leipzig. From 1810 he studied medicine and natural science at the University of Leipzig. He became an instructor in 1818. In 1820 he was appointed the director of the Dresden natural history museum and a professor at the Surgical-Medical Academy in Dresden, where he remained till 1862. He was later the founder of the Dresden botanical gardens and joint founder of Dresden Zoo. The museum's zoological collection was almost completely destroyed by the fire in the Zwinger palace during the constitutional crisis of 1849, but Reichenbach was able to replace it within only a few years. This collection is the basis of that seen in the museum today.
Reichenbach was a prolific author and able botanical artist. His works included Iconographia Botanica seu Plantae criticae (1823–32, 10 vols.) and Handbuch der speciellen Ornithologie (1851–54).
He was honored by having a plant named after him : Viola reichenbachiana Jord. ex Bor. (syn. V. sylvatica (Hartm.) Fr. ex Hartm. and V. sylvestris Lam. p.p.) (the slender wood violet). Reichenbach's sunbird (Anabathmis reichenbachii) is also named after him. This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation Rchb. when citing a botanical name.
- [Lepidoptera] Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1817)
- Conspectus Regni Vegetabilis (1828)
- Flora germanica excursoria (1830–32, 2 tomes)
- Flora exotica (1834–36)
- Flora germanica exsiccata (1830–45)
- Übersicht des Gewächsreichs und seiner natürlichen Entwickelungsstufen (1828)
- Handbuch des natürlichen Pflanzensystems (1837)
- Das Herbarienbuch (1841)
- Abbildung und Beschreibung der für Gartenkultur empfehlenswerten Gewächse (1821–26, with 96 plates)
- Monographia generis Aconiti (1820, with 19 plates)
- Illustratio specierum Aconiti generis (1823–27, with 72 plates)
- Iconographia botanica s. plantae criticae (1823-1832, with 1,000 plates)
- Iconographia botanica exotica (1827–30)
- Regnum animale (1834–36, with 79 plates)
- Deutschlands Fauna (1842, 2 tomes)
- Vollständigste Naturgeschichte des In- und Auslandes (1845–54, 2 volumes in 9 tomes with more than 1,000 plates)