Genetic variation within and between 34 populations of Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) in China was surveyed using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers. A total of 1009 individuals were analysed, for which 12 RAPD primers amplified 69 reproducible bands, with 22 (32%) being polymorphic. The percentage of polymorphic loci (p) within a population ranged from 4.4% to 17.4%, and the mean Nei's gene diversity (He) was 0.046 ± 0.0145, indicating a low genetic diversity of E. crassipes in China. Each population contained at least four RAPD phenotypes (genotypes), and the same particular genotype was invariably dominant in all the populations sampled. The mean proportion of distinguishable genotypes was 0.29. Analysis of molecular variance revealed a large proportion of genetic variation (83.9%) residing within populations and a slightly larger proportion (88.1%) within localities, indicating a low genetic differentiation of E. crassipes populations, both locally and regionally. Human-mediated dispersal, vigorous clonal growth, and a generally low level of sexual reproduction were thought to be responsible for such a pattern of genetic structure.