Argentine and Pensacola are two types of Bahia grass. These warm-season varieties grow widely throughout and are adapted to the Gulf Coast regions of the southeast United States, including Florida and the Coastal Plain. Both perennial grasses form pasture grass. Although they are similar in many aspects, they have several differences, allowing gardeners to grow one according to their needs.
Argentine Bahia grass is dark green with wider blades than Pensacola Bahia. It forms a few seed heads and grows into dense turf. Pensacola Bahia has long, narrow leaves and plenty of seed heads. Its root system runs very deep, sometimes up to 8 or 10 feet.
Argentine Bahia grass was brought to the United States from its native Argentina in 1944. Ed Finlayson, an Escambia County extension agent, stumbled across Pensacola Bahia grass growing in vacant lots and street sides around Pensacola's docks.
Although Argentine Bahia starts its growth later than Pensacola Bahia, it continues producing more forage all the way up to the end of summer and early fall. Pensacola Bahia starts its growth in early spring and continues vigorously until midsummer. Its growth slows down toward the end of summer, and the quality of the grass deteriorates.
Argentine Bahia grass prefers full sun and withstands poorly drained soils. It also withstands heavy rainfall and wet climates better than Pensacola Bahia. In fact, it can survive in standing water for a considerable period of time without damage to its leaves. It is, however, susceptible to low temperatures and frost. Pensacola Bahia is more shade-tolerant than Argentine Bahia and is extremely drought-tolerant due to its extensive root system. It is also more cold-tolerant than Argentine Bahia, which explains its growth toward the transition zones near the north. Any top growth killed by extreme cold and frost in those areas recovers soon when temperature rise.
Gardeners plant Argentine Bahia in more home lawns in the Southeast because of its fewer seed heads. It forms pasture grass in Florida and other coastal areas. Argentine Bahia is more palatable for cattle and horses, which is why it makes better forage than Pensacola Bahia. The University of Georgia Cooperation Extension states that out of all the varieties of Bahia grasses, Pensacola is the most commonly grown. It usually grows along roads and in lawns.
Argentine Bahia is highly susceptible to ergot. Ergot is a smut disease that thrives in seed heads and affects the health of grazing cattle. Pensacola Bahia has better resistance to ergot, which is why it should be used on less fertile soils or those that will not be managed properly. This type of Bahia grass is relatively easy to maintain once it establishes itself as compared to other pasture grasses.