Brown studied from 1824 to 1827 in Heidelberg medicine and natural sciences, particularly botany. During his studies he became friends with Karl Friedrich Schimper, Louis Agassiz, as well as Georg Engelmann, with whom he had all his life contact. In 1830 he was elected a member of the Scholars Academy Leopoldina. He continued his botanical studies continued until 1831 at the University of Munich and until 1832 in Paris. In 1833 he was appointed professor of botany and zoology at the Polytechnic in Karlsruhe. In 1837 he was also director of the Grand Ducal Naturalienkabinett.
In 1846 he was appointed as professor of botany at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau and was also director of the botanical garden. In 1850 he was appointed as Professor of Botany at the University of Giessen and then moved in 1851 to the University of Berlin. In 1869, he was among the founders of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. Then he was up to his death in 1877 the deputy chairman.
Brown was the chief representative of the idealistic comparative morphology of the plants. On the basis of his natural philosophical views he developed his doctrine of the leaf position of the plants, which built on earlier theories of Karl Friedrich Schimper. This approach is also based on its plant systematic and blütenmorphologischen work. In his system, he tried to put on comparative morphological basis in the context of the historical development of the plant kingdom, the arrangement of the plants. His microscopic studies of cryptogams sprang important contributions to the development of the cell theory.
The Wilhelm Philipp Schimper Bryologe Brown named in honor of a moss genus Braunia.