Background The Central Amazonian floodplain forests are subjected to extended periods of flooding and to flooding amplitudes of 10 m or more. The predictability, the length of the flood pulse, the abrupt transition in the environmental conditions along topographic gradients on the banks of major rivers in Central Amazonia, and the powerful water and sediment dynamics impose a strong selective pressure on plant reproduction systems. Scope In this review, we examine how the hydrological cycle influences the strategies of sexual and asexual reproduction in herbaceous and woody plants. These are of fundamental importance for the completion of the life cycle. Possible constraints to seed germination, seedling establishment and formation of seed banks are also covered. Likewise, we also discuss the importance of river connectivity for species propagation and persistence in floodplains. Conclusions The propagation and establishment strategies employed by the highly diversified assortment of different plant life forms result in contrasting successional stages and a zonation of plant assemblages along the flood-level gradient, whose species composition and successional status are continuously changing not only temporally but also spatially along the river channel.