We examined the understory species composition of 24 remnant forest stands along an urban-to-rural gradient in the metropolitan Milwaukee, Wisconsin region to determine the relationships between plant community composition, human disturbance, and contrasting types of land use along a gradient of urbanization. A significant difference was found in shrub species community composition among three contrasting land-use categories but no significant difference was found in herbaceous community composition. Significant differences in human activity existed among rural, urban, and urbanizing land-use categories, but this index of disturbance was not significantly correlated to gradients in species composition. All stands in this study had been subjected to various types of human activity and environmental disturbances in the past. Our data suggest that differences in the relative importance of understory species exist among stands but these differences may not be caused by the impacts of urbanization alone. Changes in the natural disturbance regime of this landscape, along with the impacts associated with urbanization, have led to an individualistic response in the compositional dynamics of forest stands.