In 1871 he obtained his doctorate from the University of Leipzig, later receiving his habilitation at the University of Jena, where in 1879 he became an associate professor. In 1904-05 he conducted scientific research in Java, publishing Botanische and landwirtschaftliche Studien auf Java (Botanical and agricultural studies on Java, 1907) as a result. In 1923, he was appointed professor of soil science, plant and seed physiology at Jena.
He was the author of Das pflanzenphysiologische Praktikum (1888), a book later translated into English and published as "Practical Plant Physiology: An Introduction to Original Research for Students and Teachers of Natural Science, Medicine, Agriculture and Forestry" (1898). Other noted works by Detmer include:
- Vergleichende Physiologie des Keimungsprocesses der Samen, 1880 - Comparative physiology on seed germination processes.
- Botanische Wanderungen in Brasilien, 1897 - Botanical excursions in Brazil.
- HUH Index of Botanists
- Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie 2 by K. G. Saur Verlag GmbH & Company
- Salmonsens store illustrerede konversationsleksikon: en nordisk ..., Volume 5 edited by Johan Christian Blangstrup, Jens Braage Halvorsen, Karl Kristian Emil Fischer
- Nationaal Herbarium Nederland Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 1: Cyclopaedia of collectors
- Google Books Practical Plant Physiology
- JSTOR Full text of "Experimental Physiology".
- Open Library (publications)
- "Author Query for 'Detmer'". International Plant Names Index.