The vegetation of the northeast Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is dominated by alpine meadow and desert-steppe with sparse forests scattered within it. To obtain a better understanding of the phylogeography of one constituent species of the forests in this region, we examined chloroplast trnT-trnF and trnS-trnG sequence variation within Juniperus przewalskii, a key endemic tree species. Sequence data were obtained from 392 trees in 20 populations covering the entire distribution range of the species. Six cpDNA haplotypes were identified. Significant population subdivision was detected (GST = 0.772, NST = 0.834), suggesting low levels of recurrent gene flow among populations and significant phylogeographic structure (NST > GST, P < 0.05). Eight of the nine disjunct populations surveyed on the high-elevation northeast plateau were fixed for a single haplotype (A), while the remaining, more westerly population, contained the same haplotype at high frequency together with two low frequency haplotypes (C and F). In contrast, most populations that occurred at lower altitudes at the plateau edge were fixed or nearly fixed for one of two haplotypes, A or E. However, two plateau edge populations had haplotype compositions different from the rest. In one, four haplotypes (A, B, D and E) were present at approximately equivalent frequencies, which might reflect a larger refugium in the area of this population during the last glacial period. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that the most widely distributed haplotype A is not ancestral to other haplotypes. The contrasting phylogeographic structures of the haplotype-rich plateau edge area and the almost haplotype-uniform plateau platform region indicate that the plateau platform was recolonized by J. przewalskii during the most recent postglacial period. This is supported by the findings of a nested clade analysis, which inferred that postglacial range expansion from the plateau edge followed by recent fragmentation is largely responsible for the present-day spatial distribution of cpDNA haplotypes within the species.