First come, first served. In the case of early bloomers, winter aconite might just be the first to come, and the early-emerging pollinators will be the first served.

Last week, Tom Hodgson of West Tisbury posted a photo of winter aconite on his blog, thetompostpile. For me, it was love at first sight. How can you not appreciate the first sight of spring color after so much rainy and gray weather?

And what a cool little plant. British writer Robert Henry Forster shared an appreciation for this very special species in his poem, Winter Aconit. Though I am not sure where the “e” went, he was enthusiastic:

‘Tis the first blossom that the year hath seen,
This little globe of yellow’s brightest shade,
As though upon a nest of scanty green
A fairy bird its magic egg had laid.
Almost the smallest flower the garden grows,
And yet a flower when not another blows.

Another first is the emergence of its yellow, honey-scented flowers, which come out ahead of the leaves. These leaves resemble true aconite with divided leaf bracts, perhaps explaining the name, and appear as a collar of green surrounding each bloom.

This nonnative plant hails from Europe and Asia, but has found a home here due to its seasonal timing, beauty and ease of care. Plant a few and they will self-seed, easily carpeting an area just by its own wandering ways.

Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, hails from the botanical family Ranunculaceae, as does aconite (also called wolfsbane) and hellebore. However, these are three different plants. Winter aconite is not in the same genus as aconite or hellebore, despite the similar nomenclature. Blame it on the scientist who misnamed it, but confusion somehow won the day and has led to further plant misconceptions.

Aconite is considered one of the top 10 most poisonous plants, having been used in murderous methods throughout history. The word aconite translates from Greek roots and means pointed cone, suggesting its use on arrows, darts or javelins.

The plant’s genesis legend tells of it growing from the spittle of Cerberus, the three-headed hound of the underworld, Hades. His spit contained the poisons that ran through his blood, thus giving this new plant a poisonous constituent. In a similar vein (pun intended), Thessalonian witches employed it for hallucinogenic flying ointments. Not all those set on wickedness succeeded: the sorceress Medea failed in an attempt to poison Theseus with this plant.

Transformation of form was also believed to be possible through the use of aconite. Using the plant, Arachne changed into a spider. And a Germanic tribe consumed aconite to transform into werewolves.

Because of aconite’s history of harm, winter aconite has acquired a similar reputation, even though it is unclear if the effects are shared.  Sources disagree on the dangers of winter aconite, but none of us need to be the test case for the malicious nature of this plant.

We should enjoy it with our eyes, rather than taste it with our tongues. After all, we have much to live for when you consider that after this first, spring is just around the corner.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.