Selective vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) suppression of prairie grasses and forbs in experimental restorations suggests why many of the plants are likely to be uncommon in nature. Vole herbivory reduced densities of legumes and grasses and increased unpalatable forbs in replicated plantings in Illinois: six otherwise common species (Dalea purpurea, Desmanthus illinoensis, Elymus canadensis, Panicum virgatum, Phalaris arundinacea, Sorghastrum nutans) declined 27–89% in abundance, whereas two species (Echinacea purpurea and Rudbeckia hirta) increased by 61% and 1023%. Species number dropped by 19% and plant diversity (Simpson’s D) by 37% in one treatment to which voles had access. Plots were planted with 18 prairie species of the region, but in even distributions of 35 or 350 seeds species−1 m−2, rather than skewed in favour of large C4 grasses common in native remnants. Manipulation of plant composition and vole access revealed what are likely to be formative effects of rodent herbivory on vegetative composition. These experimental tallgrass communities appear to be assembling from plant species that voles prefer not to eat.