Anthoxanthum nitens is primarily a European species. In the Flora region, it grows along the coast from northern Labrador to New England. It is not known from Greenland, although it grows in Iceland and northwestern Europe. It grows in wet meadows and at the edges of sloughs, marshes, roadsides, and fields. Only A. nitens (Weber) Y. Schouten & Veldkamp subsp. nitens is present in the region; it is also present in Europe. It differs from A. nitens subsp. balticum (G. Weim.) G.C. Tucker in being almost always awned and having In = 28.
North American taxonomists have generally interpreted Anthoxanthum nitens as including A. hirtum (and treated both as Hierochloe odorata (L.) Wahlenb.). The two are distinct, although not easy to distinguish. Weimarck (1971) separated the two by the density of the lateral hairs and development of the awns of the staminate florets. The difference in abundance and distribution of hairs more than 0.5 mm long on the apices of the bisexual florets is more reliable, A. nitens having few such long hairs concentrated near the midvein. M.J. Harvey (pers. comm.), who did not distinguish between the two species, found that plants from the Maritime Provinces collected near saltwater were uniformly 2n = 28, whereas those from the interior of New Brunswick westward had 2n = 56. This observation is consistent with Weimark's chromosome counts and distribution maps.