• bottomland hardwoods;
  • invasive species;
  • restoration;
  • succession

Exotic plants pose a threat to restoration success in post-agricultural bottomlands, but little information exists on their dynamics during succession of actively restored sites. We hypothesized that exotic assemblages would establish during succession and that their compositional trends during succession time would mirror those published for native species in other systems, with an early peak in herbaceous richness followed by a decline as woody species establish. In the summer of 2008, we sampled 16 sites across an 18-year chronosequence of restored forests, with an additional four mature forest stands for comparison, within the Cypress Creek NWR, Illinois, U.S.A. We identified all vascular plant species and quantified canopy openness at three canopy strata, and soil texture and chemistry. Trends in exotic assemblages were significantly correlated with canopy openness at all strata. Richness of exotic and native herbaceous species was related to stand age and consistent with a Weibull regression model. Native and exotic herbaceous cover followed an exponential decay model. Woody native richness over time conformed to a logistic model; woody exotics exhibited no relationship with stand age and were present in sites of all ages. Our results indicate that although their rates of decline differ, herbaceous exotics and natives exhibit similar successional dynamics; therefore, herbaceous exotics may not pose a lasting threat to restoration success in reforested floodplains. Woody exotics can establish across a range of successional stages and persist under closed canopy conditions. Bottomland restorations are vulnerable to the invasion and expansion of exotic plant species even after canopy closure.