Continuous and prolonged human disturbances have caused severe degradation of a large portion of lowland in South China, and how to restore such degraded ecosystems becomes an increasing concern. The process and mechanisms of spontaneous succession, which plays an important role in vegetation restoration, have not been adequately examined. To identify the pathways of early spontaneous vegetation succession, 41 plots representing plant communities abandoned over different times were established and investigated. The communities and indicator species of the vegetation were classified by analyzing the important values of plant species using multivariate analyses. The results indicated that the plant species could be classified into nine plant communities representing six succession stages. The pathway and species composition also changed in the process of succession. We also measured 13 environmental variables of microtopography, soil structure and soil nutrition in each plot to examine the driving forces of succession and the vegetation-environment relationships. Our results showed that the environmental variables changed in diverse directions, and that soil bulk density, soil water capacity and soil acidity were the most important factors.