Friedrich Wilms, German apothecary and botanist, was the son of the plant collector Dr Friedrich Wilms. During 1879-1882 he studied the flora of Westphalia. He then came to South Africa, on the same ship as Franz E. Bachmann*, arriving at Cape Town in July 1883. While Bachmann disembarked there, Wilms continued on to Durban. He travelled by train to Pietermaritzburg, where he started collecting plants. Travelling by ox-wagon he proceeded via Greytown and Ladysmith, across the Drakensberg at Lang Nek (or Laings Nek, at Majuba, south of Volksrust), to Pretoria, which he reached late in November 1883. On 18 December he set out again, reaching Lydenburg before the end of the year. There he settled for the next 13 years to collect plants.
Most of his collecting was done in the valley of the Waterval River and the kloofs of the Steenkampsberg (both some distance west of the town), and in the Drakensberg to the east, though he also made one trip to Delegoa Bay (now Baia De Maputo) during the winter months. During the first few years he sent many specimens and some descriptions of lichens to Germany, most of which were published by J. Müller in his Lichenologische Beiträge (1885-1888). From October 1884 to June 1886 Wilms made regular meteorological observations at Lydenburg. The results were published by J. von Hahn in the Meteorologische Zeitschrift (1907) and included tables of monthly mean air temperatures, humidity, cloud cover, and rain days, and notes on the direction and strength of surface winds.
Wilms returned to Germany in 1896 with a large botanical collection, including mosses, lichens, ferns, and flowering plants, and containing many new species. In 1898 he described his stay in South Africa, including notes on the vegetation, in "Ein botanischer Ausflug ins Boerenland", in the Verhandlungen des Botanischen Vereins of the Province of Brandenburg. His new species of flowering plants were described, with those of others, in Engler's Jahrbücher (1898) by the German botanists M. Gürke (Fam. Ebenaceae), E. Gilg (Gentianaceae), and L. Diels (Campanulaceae and Scrophulariaceae). Many species were named after him, including Kirkia wilmsii, Melolobium wilmsii, Argylolobium wilmsii, Streptocarpus wilmsii, Polygala wilmsii, Salix wilmsii and Lejeunea wilmsii. His specimens went to the Botanischer Museum at Berlin-Dahlem, with duplicates to the National Herbarium, Pretoria, the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, the Bews Herbarium, University of Natal, and other institutions.
Wilms was later appointed assistant in the Botanischer Museum, working mainly on mosses. He also took part in the re-identification and distribution of the plant collection made by August G.H. Rudatis* in Natal during 1904-1905. He reported on this work in "Neubestimmungen bzw Korrekturen der von H. Rudatis in Natal gesammelten Pflanzen" (Feddes Repert. (1912-1913). During his last years he worked on his father's herbarium.