Sea oats are found from Virginia to the Florida Panhandle and west to Mississippi. The plants inhabit sandy dunes on coastal islands and along the coastlines.
This species is among the most effective native sand-binding grasses. Therefore, this species is an important contributor to dune formation and stabilization. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Heritage Trust Program, considers sea oats to be a species of concern. Current data indicate that their populations in the state may be declining due to habitat (i.e., wet or well- drained soils, loamy or sandy or mucky substrate) loss or alteration or pollution.