Forest plantations have been an important land-use pattern in Indonesia for centuries. Yet the role of timber plantations, their specific goals, perceptions, actors involved, and management systems had been redefined in the past and they continue to evolve today. It is important to understand the driving forces and historical trends shaping timber plantations in Indonesia in order to critically reflect on their changing roles in the forestry sector. This article traces the development of Indonesian forest plantations through time by categorizing them into paradigms. Proposed explanatory framework helps to see the historical legacies in the Indonesian plantation sector. The identification of historical plantation modes is based on a literature review while current approaches and specific policy instruments are discussed based on exploratory empirical case-study material from three Indonesian forest plantation estates (involving joint forest management, community forest management and large private timber company). The historical review shows a range of continuities and helps to explain the problems forest plantations in Indonesia face today. It points to socially-oriented community forest management as highly praised by its stakeholders, able to improve rural livelihoods and secure environmental benefits.