In Flanders, forests have been subjected to subsequent periods of reclamation and reforestation, leading to a mosaic of forest patches of various ages and with different abiotic conditions, depending on the duration and intensity of the past agricultural activities. While extensive research has been done on the relative importance of dispersal limitation and establishment limitation in explaining colonization patterns of so-called ancient forest plant species, little is known about the viability of populations of these species once they have colonized recent forests. Therefore, a comparative study on population structure and plant performance was carried out for three forest plant species with different colonization capacity (Primula elatior, Geum urbanum and Arum maculatum) in three different habitat types: ancient forests, recently established forests and small landscape elements (hedgerows). Contrary to the expectation, it was shown that adult plant performance - a combination of vegetative as well as reproductive characteristics - of the three species was generally higher in recent forests and small landscape elements. This also led to higher seedling densities and proportions in these habitat types. Adult densities, however, were extremely low in newly established forests, suggesting reduced seedling and juvenile survival under these circumstances, probably due to higher light availability and hence increased competition from species like Urtica dioica. Although there might be no immediate establishment limitation, installing a shrub layer in recent forests might enhance survival and result in a stable population structure. Hedgerows on the other hand seemed to contain viable populations of certain forest plant species and can therefore function as an important colonization source when incorporated in recently established forests.