Argentine and Pensacola are two types of Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum Flugge) widely found growing in southeastern United States. Both types are perennial, warm-season lawn grasses commonly used as pasture grass. For all their similarities, there are several differences that set them apart, allowing gardeners to choose a type that suits their needs and requirements.
Native to Argentina, Argentine Bahia grass was brought to the United States in the 1940s. It is for this reason this grass it also known as “Argentina” Bahia. Pensacola Bahia grass was discovered and brought from South America to southern United States by Ed Finlayson, an agent of the Escambia County Extension Service. He found this cultivar growing in streets and vacant lots near Pensacola’s docks.
Argentine Bahia grass has dense, deep green blades, wider than Pensacola Bahia grass, with a few seed heads. Pensacola has narrow leaves that are slightly longer than Argentine Bahia grass, with many seed heads. It has an extensive root system that grows from 7 to 10 feet deep.
Argentine Bahia grass prefers full sunlight and is susceptible to frost, cold and low temperatures that usually result in winterkill. It withstands poorly drained soils better than Pensacola. Argentine Bahia grass withstands wet climates and heavy rainfall more than Pensacola Bahia grass, and can even stand in still water for some period of time. Pensacola Bahia grass tolerates cold better than Argentine Bahia, which is why it is also grown further north toward and in transition zones. Although frost in those areas kills some of the top growth, it recovers soon when temperatures rise. It is extremely drought tolerant due to its deep roots. It is also more shade-tolerant than Argentine Bahia.
Argentine Bahsia grass starts growing in late spring but surpasses Pensacola Bahia by producing more forage by late summer or early fall. Pensacola Bahia, on the other hand, begins its growth in early spring until midsummer. However, its growth rate slows down in considerably by late summer and its quality decreases.
Argentine Bahia grass is used in home lawns because it produces fewer seed heads. It is also used as pasture grass in coastal areas including Florida. According to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Pensacola is the most widely grown variety of Bahia grass in the United States. It forms pasture grass and grows along roadsides.
Argentine Bahia grass is susceptible to ergot, a smut disease that affects seed heads and causes health problems in cattle. Ergot seeds result in dense grass that needs to be replaced every three to five years. Pensacola Bahia grass is moderately resistant to ergot.