Abstract Several studies in arid ecosystems have demonstrated that seedling establishment and survival were greater underneath the canopies of shrubs than in the open spaces between shrubs. These results led to the formulation of the hypothesis that seedling recruitment and survival were dependent on the shelter provided by shrub species (nurse-plant hypothesis). Seedling emergence and survival beneath and between the canopies of selected perennial shrub species were investigated at five localities in the Strandveld Succulent Karoo, each dominated by a different shrub species. Seedling emergence and survival were also examined at three localities dominated by annual species. In general, species richness and seedling densities were significantly higher in open areas than underneath shrubs, while seedling survival percentages did not differ significantly between microsites. Therefore, no evidence could be found to support the hypothesis that seedling recruitment and survival were facilitated by the presence of shrub species. Although most species will be able to establish in the absence of shrubs, the presence of woody species may have other advantages when restoring vegetation in mined areas.