Land-use changes and associated extinction/colonization dynamics can have a large impact on population genetic diversity of plant species. The aim of this study was to investigate genetic diversity in a founding population of the self-incompatible forest herb Primula elatior and to elucidate the processes that affect genetic diversity shortly after colonization. AFLP markers were used to analyse genetic diversity across three age classes and spatial genetic structure within a founding population of P. elatior in a recently established stand in central Belgium. Parentage analyses were used to assess the amount of gene flow from outside the population and to investigate the contribution of mother plants to future generations. The genetic diversity of second and third generation plants was significantly reduced compared with that of first generation plants. Significant spatial genetic structure was observed. Parentage analyses showed that <20 % of the youngest individuals originated from parents outside the study population and that > 50 % of first and second generation plants did not contribute to seedling recruitment. These results suggest that a small effective population size and genetic drift can lead to rapid decline of genetic diversity of offspring in founding populations shortly after colonization. This multigenerational study also highlights that considerable amounts of gene flow seem to be required to counterbalance genetic drift and to sustain high levels of genetic diversity after colonization in recently established stands.