There is insufficient information about germination, seed biology and seedling establishment of native grass species of the cerrado (Brazilian savannah) to recommend their use in restoration of disturbed areas. We evaluated the production, percentage of fertile seeds, germination, seedling growth and establishment in the field of eighteen native grass species and one exotic invasive species (Melinis minutiflora) and also the effects of different storage periods on germination. The percentage of fertile seeds varied from 6·0 to 94·2% among native species. Ten species produced a minimum of 800 fertile seeds per gram. Germination rate was in the range of 11·0 to 98·8%. Storage for 1 year reduced the germination rate in one species, did not affect germination of three species and increased germination (by 2–10 times) in 14 species. After 2 years of storage, six species showed reductions in germination. Three different patterns of resource allocation were observed and might provide mechanisms for increasing seedling establishment under different environmental conditions. In the field, only two species flowered in the first year after sowing and an additional eight in the second year of observation. Melinis minutiflora is an aggressive species with more than three times the fertile seed production of native species (2820 seeds per gram), high germination rate (55%) and a high number of germinable seeds (1551 per gram). Despite the wide variation in seed characteristics and the delay in flowering, it is concluded that most native grass species can be used in projects aiming at the restoration and management of degraded areas.