Given the increasing anthropogenic pressures on forests, the various protected areas--national parks, sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves--serve as the last footholds for conserving biological diversity. However, because protected areas are often targeted for the conservation of selected species, particularly charismatic animals, concerns have been raised about their effectiveness in conserving nontarget taxa and their genetic resources. In this paper, we evaluate whether protected areas can serve as refugia for genetic resources of economically important plants that are threatened due to extraction pressures. We examine the population structure and genetic diversity of an economically important rattan, Calamus thwaitesii, in the core, buffer and peripheral regions of three protected areas in the central Western Ghats, southern India. Our results indicate that in all the three protected areas, the core and buffer regions maintain a better population structure, as well as higher genetic diversity, than the peripheral regions of the protected area. Thus, despite the escalating pressures of extraction, the protected areas are effective in conserving the genetic resources of rattan. These results underscore the importance of protected areas in conservation of nontarget species and emphasize the need to further strengthen the protected-area network to offer refugia for economically important plant species.