Secondary forests are an increasingly common feature in tropical landscapes worldwide and understanding their regeneration is necessary to design effective restoration strategies. It has previously been shown that the woody species community in secondary forests can follow different successional pathways according to the nature of past human activities in the area, yet little is known about patterns of herbaceous species diversity in secondary forests with different histories of land use. We compared the diversity and abundance of herbaceous plant communities in two types of Central Amazonian secondary forests—those regenerating on pastures created by felling and burning trees and those where trees were felled only. We also tested if plant density and species richness in secondary forests are related to proximity to primary forest. In comparison with primary forest sites, forests regenerating on non-burned habitats had lower herbaceous plant density and species richness than those on burned ones. However, species composition and abundance in non-burned stands were more similar to those of primary forest, whereas several secondary forest specialist species were found in burned stands. In both non-burned and burned forests, distance from the forest edge was not related to herbaceous density and species richness. Overall, our results suggest that the natural regeneration of herbaceous species in secondary tropical forests is dependent on a site's post-clearing treatment. We recommend evaluating the land history of a site prior to developing and implementing a restoration strategy, as this will influence the biological template on which restoration efforts are overlaid.