Abstract Sinowilsonia henryi Hemsi., the only representative of the monotypic genus Sinowilsonia Hemsi. (Hamamelidaceae), is a threatened plant endemic to China with high phylogenetical, ecological and economical values. In the present study, inter-simple sequence repeat (ISSR) markers were employed to investigate the genetic diversity and differentiation of 214 individuals sampled from 14 populations. Fifteen selected primers yielded a total of 178 bright and discernible bands. The genetic diversity was low at the population level (h = 0.1025; I = 0.1506; PPL = 26.7%), but quite high at the species level (h = 0.2449; I = 0.3690; PPL = 72.5%). In line with the limited gene flow (Nm = 0.3537), the hierarchical analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) revealed pronounced genetic differentiation among populations (ΦST = 0.6639). Furthermore, the Mantel test revealed a significant correlation between genetic and geographic distances among populations (r = 0.688, P = 0.001), indicating the role of geographic isolation in shaping its present population genetic structure. The present patterns of genetic diversity of S. henryi were assumed to result largely from its evolutionary history and geographic factors. Based on these findings, conservation strategies were proposed to preserve this threatened plant.