Summary Seed availability is a major factor limiting the recruitment of rain forest to cleared land, but little is known about the composition of the soil seed bank under different reforestation pathways. We quantified changes in the viable soil seed bank following rain forest clearing and pasture establishment and subsequent reforestation in subtropical eastern Australia. Major reforestation pathways in the region include planting of a diverse suite of native trees for ecological restoration purposes, autogenic regrowth dominated by the non-native tree Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphora) and management of this regrowth to accelerate the development of a native tree community. These pathways differ considerably in cost: restoration plantings are expensive, autogenic regrowth is free, whilst managing regrowth generally costs much less than restoration plantings. We surveyed five sites within each of three reforestation pathways as well as reference sites in remnant rain forest and pasture. The composition of the seed bank was determined by germinating plants from soil samples collected from each site. Germinants were classified into several functional groups according to life form, origin, dispersal mode and successional stage. The majority of functional groups varied significantly in abundance or richness between rain forest and pasture sites. Most of the functional groups that varied between rain forest and pasture were restored to values similar to rain forest by at least one of the three reforestation pathways examined. The species richness of native woody plants in the soil seed bank was slightly higher in restoration plantings than in autogenic or managed regrowth; nevertheless, the species richness and abundance of native woody plants and vines were higher in the seed bank of autogenic regrowth than pasture, and both attributes were enhanced by the management of regrowth sites. The results of this study show that autogenic regrowth can make an important contribution to rain forest restoration at a landscape scale. The optimal reforestation approach or mix of approaches will depend on the desired rate of recovery and the resources available for restoration.