Black needlerush is a perennial plant that forms tufts of coarse leaves. Greenish gray in color the leaves of black needlerush are very short, rigid, and pointy. The appearance of this plant is highly variable and strongly dependent on environmental conditions. With higher soil salinity, black needlerush becomes more stunted and dwarfed in appearance. Specimens located in areas of reduced salinity can grow taller than 6 feet. On the other hand, specimens dwarfed by high salinity typically do not reach 12 inches in total height.
Native to North America, black needlerush is distributed along the coastline of the United States from New Jersey to Texas, most commonly found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Often dominating the salt marshes and estuaries throughout its range, black needlerush tends to be better suited to the higher marsh areas, and can be found up to 15 miles up river from the coast. Black needlerush and smooth cordgrass are typically found together, with the cordgrass in deeper areas at the edge of the sea, and the needlerush leading the way toward lower salinities upstream. Beyond trapping sediments like smooth cordgrass, black needlerush also provides habitat and shelter to many species of birds and small mammals. The long-billed marsh wren, seaside sparrow, and clapper rail rely on needlerush to provide cover from the elements as well as predation.
Black needlerush is known to reduce concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons in coastal soils contaminated by diesel. As such is could be highly applicable in mitigating the affects of oil spills.