Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is often subject to transient waterlogging during winter under dryland conditions and summer when flood-irrigated. Despite this, little is known about the physiological responses of perennial ryegrass genotypes to waterlogging. In a pot experiment, four perennial ryegrass genotypes with contrasting root growth characteristics were subjected to waterlogging for 0, 3, 7, 14, 21 or 28 days. The masses of roots and shoots of the genotype Aurora6 were not significantly (P>0·05) reduced by waterlogging, throughout the experiment. All other genotypes exhibited reductions in root and shoot biomass between 14 and 21 days after waterlogging was imposed. The masses of laminae and roots of susceptible genotypes were reduced by up to 70% after 28 days of waterlogging. Aurora6 was also able to maintain photosynthesis for longer into the waterlogging period. However, after 28 days of waterlogging, photosynthesis of all genotypes was reduced by 30–50%. The waterlogging tolerance of Aurora6 was not due to its relatively poor root growth, as its progeny (2178), which also had poor root growth under control conditions, was susceptible to waterlogging. These findings show that there is variation in physiological processes and herbage yield of perennial ryegrass under waterlogged conditions. The implications of these findings for the genetic improvement of waterlogging tolerance of perennial ryegrass are discussed.