Hawaiian dry and mesic forests contain an increasingly rare assemblage of species due to habitat destruction, invasive alien weeds and exotic pests. Two rare Rhamnaceae species in these ecosystems, Colubrina oppositifolia and Alphitonia ponderosa, were examined using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers to determine the genetic structure of the populations and the amount of variation relative to other native Hawaiian species. Relative variation is lower than with other Hawaiian species, although this is probably not a consequence of genetic bottleneck. Larger populations of both species contain the highest levels of genetic diversity and smaller populations generally the least as determined by number of polymorphic loci, estimated heterozygosity, and Shannon's index of genetic diversity. Populations on separate islands were readily discernible for both species as were two populations of C. oppositifolia on Hawai'i island (North and South Kona populations). Substructure among Kaua'i subpopulations of A. ponderosa that were ecologically separated was also evident. Although population diversity is thought to have remained at predisturbance levels, population size continues to decline as recruitment is either absent or does not keep pace with senescence of mature plants. Recovery efforts must focus on control of alien species if these and other endemic dry and mesic forest species are to persist.