Laurel wilt, caused by Raffaelea lauricola, threatens native and non-native species in the Lauraceae in the south-eastern USA. Avocado, Persea americana, is the most important agricultural suscept of laurel wilt. Grafted plants (clonal scions on seedling rootstocks) of 24 cultivars were screened against the disease in the field from 2008 to 2010. Disease was induced with either mycelial plugs or conidial suspensions of R. lauricola. There were significant differences in the severity of disease that developed on different cultivars, and West Indian cultivars were most susceptible (P < 0·05). Simmonds, a West Indian cultivar that comprises 35% of the commercial production in Florida, was consistently susceptible and was used as a standard genotype in different studies. Disease severity increased significantly on cv. Simmonds as plant size (stem diameter) increased (P < 0·0042). In greenhouse studies, internal (sapwood) and external disease severities on cv. Simmonds were correlated (P < 0·0001), and a threshold was evident, in that external symptoms developed only after moderately severe symptoms had developed internally. Latent infection was uncommon; R. lauricola was usually isolated on a semiselective medium or detected via qPCR only from discoloured xylem of inoculated cv. Simmonds. As basipetal movement of the pathogen was common, its movement among trees via root grafts is probable. Greater understanding is needed of the movement of R. lauricola in naturally and artificially infected trees, and whether sufficient tolerance exists in avocado to assist in the management of this important new disease.