Eight populations of Silene paradoxa L. (Caryophyllaceae) growing in copper mine deposits, in serpentine outcrops or in uncontaminated soil in central Italy were studied. Genetic diversity was estimated using five polymorphic chloroplast microsatellite loci (cpSSR), identifying 27 different chloroplast haplotypes. The effective number of alleles, the haplotypic diversity and a stepwise mutational model-based parameter (DSH2) were computed. The effective number of alleles observed within populations from copper mine deposits was 20% that of the serpentine neighbouring populations, suggesting the occurrence of a founder effect. Moreover, 13 of the 27 different haplotypes scored were exclusive to only one population, indicating genetic isolation for all tolerant populations. Even the copper-tolerant populations appeared to have evolved independently. Finally, analysis of molecular variance (amova) of the cpSSR markers gave statistical significance to the grouping of populations according to their geographical location. This study demonstrates that cpSSR markers could be a useful complementary tool to isoenzymes or random amplified polymorphic DNA markers for elucidating the pattern of genetic differentiation in heavy metal-tolerant populations.