Dryopteris fragrans is one of the most unusual species in its genus. On morphological grounds, this small species appears to lack close affinities to other Dryopteris species, and its position within the group’s phylogeny remains uncertain. A hybrid with Dryopteris marginalis (Dryopteris × algonquinensis) has been reported from a single collection; the identity of this plant is uncertain.
Dryopteris fragrans is distributed in northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, where it is typically found on shaded cliffs and less commonly on talus slopes. Its specific epithet refers to the strong, distinctive scent of the leaves, which appear to be imparted by the glandular hairs covering the lamina. This population is near the southern edge of its range in North America.