Despite the importance of seed banks, knowledge about their formation and the extent to which they can recover after severe perturbation remains scarce. Olano et al. experimentally remove the seed bank from plots in an undisturbed semi-arid Mediterranean community and monitor its recovery over 3 years. They find that seed rain at small scales and secondary dispersal from intact banks in the vicinity replenish the seed bank within less than 2 years. The results show that soil seed bank genesis and recovery can be extremely rapid processes even under the limiting and stressful conditions of a semi-arid gypsum environment.