From its advent in 2005 within global climate change negotiations, reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and other forest-related activities (so-called REDD+) has been experimented with in developing country contexts for over a decade now, with a wide array of expectations coming to be associated with it. Three consecutive conceptualizations are identifiable: carbon-centered, where REDD+ is primarily a climate mitigation strategy; co-benefits-centered, where REDD+ becomes a triple win solution for climate, biodiversity and communities; and landscape-centered, where REDD+ activities are embedded in integrated sustainable land-use approaches. In assessing such evolving expectations against existing REDD+ experiences, a mixed picture emerges. Some expectations, specifically relating to forest carbon financing, are not being adequately met, while others, notably the delivery of co-benefits, hold out more promise. Yet this also highlights a potential paradox facing REDD+. While there is growing recognition that co-benefit generation is key, and that piece-meal, forest-carbon focused REDD+ interventions are unlikely to address the complex causes of tropical forest loss, forest carbon is still being foregrounded in measuring and reporting on REDD+ performance, and in generating results-based payments (even as these aspects remain challenging). This implies, however, that the future of REDD+ may lie not in one conceptualization coming to dominate, but rather in co-existence of heterogeneous practices. REDD+ may end up as a patchwork of projects and practices with different foci and financing mechanisms. Although this cannot prevent trade-offs, such a heterodox REDD+ may provide building blocks for the polycentric governance of the world's remaining tropical forests.