Does seed dormancy allow disturbance-oriented forest herbs such as Ageratina altissima to persist in heterogeneous natural communities? To document seed longevity and dormancy state, Ageratina seeds were buried in nylon mesh bags in second-growth forest stands in south-eastern Ohio, USA. Bags were recovered at 2-month intervals, and seeds were tested for viability and germinability in the lab. Live seed numbers declined rapidly, with seed banks exhausted in an estimated 33–37 months. Seeds showed a strong dormancy polymorphism, with 71–84% of live seeds germinable between March and July, the season of natural seedling emergence. At other dates, most seeds appeared to be in a state of induced dormancy, allowing little (0–21%) germination. The slope aspect of the burial site, an important factor controlling aboveground vegetation, had no effect on seed longevity or dormancy condition. Dormancy in Ageratina appears to be adapted to allow opportunistic germination in late spring–early summer, but to prevent germination in less benign periods. Seed longevity is shorter than the natural frequency of gaps in mesophytic forest. We conclude that a long-term dispersal/dormancy trade-off is probably an oversimplification of the spatial ecology of this species. The primary function of dormancy appears to be short-term tracking of seasonal variation.