Carpobrotus edulis (hottentot fig)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Carpobrotus edulis (L.) L. Bolus
Preferred Common Name
- hottentot fig
Other Scientific Names
- Carpobrotus acinaciformis (L.) L.Bolus (1925)
- Mesembryanthemum edule L. (1759)
International Common Names
- English: ice plant (UK); kaffir fig (UK)
- Spanish: balsamo; higo del cabo; higo marino; patat frita
- French: figue marine
- Portuguese: choroes
Local Common Names
- Germany: Hottentottenfeige; Pferdefeige
- Italy: fico degli Ottentotti
- Portugal: bálsamo
- South Africa: Cape fig; ghaukum; ghoenavy; hottentosvy; ikhambi-lamabulawo; kaapsevy; rankvy; sour fig; suurvy; umgongozi; vyerank
- UK: Sally-my-handsome
- USA: freeway iceplant
- CBSED (Carpobrotus edulis)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
C. edulis is a perennial plant native to South Africa, where it can be found growing on coastal and inland slopes round the fringes of Cape Province. It has been widely introduced elsewhere and has become a popular plant for growth as an ornamental or for ground cover. However, it can readily and rapidly spread to form deep, dense mats which smother other low-growing native vegetation, especially in coastal habitats. The plant can also causes changes to soil pH.
In California, USA, the plant poses a threat to several rare and endangered plant species. It has also been reported as a severe threat to native plant communities and ecosystems in the Mediterranean Basin because of the flexibility of its mating system and high seed production. In Australia it has a ‘high’ risk assessment score of 9.5 (PIER, 2008).
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Dicotyledonae
- Order: Caryophyllales
- Family: Aizoaceae
- Genus: Carpobrotus
- Species: Carpobrotus edulis
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
The original name for this species was Mesembryanthemum edule L. It was renamed Carpobrotus edulis by Brown in 1926 and by Bolus in 1927. These two authorities are both in current use. Typical C. edulis has yellow flowers fading to pink. Forms with flowers pink or purple from the time of opening may be referred to as C. acinaciformis. Stace (1991) and some other authorities still treat them as distinct species in Britain and Suehs et al.(2001; 2004a,b) describe important differences in their genetic, ecological and reproductive characteristics in France. Both forms are regarded as invasive in France. However, C. acinaciformis is now generally treated as C. edulis var. rubescens and will be included as part of C. edulis in this datasheet. Two other varieties of C. edulis recognised by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (2008) are var. edulis and var. chrysophthalmus. Where appropriate, distinction will be made according to variety.
DescriptionTop of page
Stems spreading or prostrate, up to 3 m long, forming large mats, sometimes rooting at the nodes. Leaves succulent, triangular in section, 4-14 cm long, 8-17 mm wide, opposite, slightly connate at the base, bright green or slightly glaucous, waxy, often tinged red along edges and becoming generally reddish or orange with age; adaxial and lateral surfaces distinctly concave; keel denticulate, sometimes only in upper portion; tips obtuse to acute. The flowers have superficial similarity to those of Compositae but the numerous ‘florets’ are in fact petalloid staminodes. The flowers are terminal or on side shoots, 4-9 cm diameter; peduncles 10-50 mm long. Calyx yellow-green, 4-6-lobed up to 6 cm long. Staminodes 50-150; in var. edulis, yellow changing to pink; in other vars. pink or purple from the start; usually densely streaked when dry; stamens 400-600, 6-7-seriate. Styles 8-14, free; nectary glands united to form a ring round the ovary which is conical, barely compressed, convex on top up to 3 cm in diameter. Seeds 1 x 1.5 mm, dark brown when ripe, obovate, flat, finely reticulate, on a funicle, 2-3 mm (Preston and Sell, 1988; PIER, 2008).
Plant TypeTop of page Broadleaved
DistributionTop of page
C. edulis is a sub-tropical species, native to South Africa, growing on coastal and inland slopes round the fringes of Cape Province. From there it has been introduced as an ornamental and for erosion control into many other sub-tropical and temperate countries, but particularly to Europe, USA, Australia, New Zealand, South America, North Africa, and to some Pacific and Atlantic Islands.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 23 Apr 2020
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|Portugal||1950s||Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause)||Yes||No||Gomes et al. (1999)||To stop rocks falling on tourist beaches|
|USA||Early 1900s||Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause)||Yes||No||Albert (2008)||For railway tracks|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
While not readily spread accidentally at the international level, there is continued significant risk of deliberate introduction as an ornamental, being readily available from nursery businesses via the internet.
HabitatTop of page
C. edulis is naturally a plant of coastal habitats, on cliffs and sand-dunes, salt marshes and coastal scrub, but it also flourishes on roadsides and railway lines inland. It is widely planted as a soil binder on embankments and as an ornamental in coastal districts.
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Urban / peri-urban areas||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Wetlands||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rocky areas / lava flows||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Scrub / shrublands||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Scrub / shrublands||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Coastal dunes||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Coastal dunes||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Coastal dunes||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Mud flats||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Mud flats||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Salt marshes||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Salt marshes||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Chromosome number of C. edulis vars edulis and rubescens is 2n = 18 (Preston and Sell, 1988).
Hybridisation can occur with C. chilensis in California, USA and these hybrids show hybrid vigour and also behave invasively (Vilà and D'Antonio, 1998a; Weber and D'Antonio, 1999 ; Schierenbeck et al., 2005). There is also apparently hybridization between the different varieties within C. edulis (Preston and Sell, 1988).
Typical C. edulis is completely self-fertile, while ‘C. acinaciformis’ is only slightly self-fertile. Thus C. edulis shows high flexibility in its mating system and high seed production, while ‘C. acinaciformis’, shows strong clonality, high hybrid vigour, and potential for continued introgression from C. edulis genes (Suehs et al., 2004b). Pollinating agents include Coleoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and possibly snails (Preston and Sell, 1988). Mature fruits do not release the seeds for at least 3 years (D’Antonio, 1990), dispersal depending on frugivorous mammals – see Movement and Dispersal. Numerous seeds are embedded in each fruit (Weber, 2003) and may number over 1000 per m² (PIER, 2008). When seeds are eventually released to the soil through rotting of the fruit they may remain viable in the soil for two years (D’Antonio, 1990).
Physiology and Phenology
Germination of seeds is enhanced by passage through the gut of animals (D’Antonio, 1990). Once established the plants spread vigorously by prostrate stems which root at the nodes. Flowering in California continues from January through May and fruits mature from March through to November. Flowering in UK is from May to July, and in South Africa from August to October. Flowers open only in the afternoon.
ClimateTop of page
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Tolerated||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||10||25|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||30|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||0-5|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Mean annual rainfall||300||1500||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Uniform
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Natural enemiesTop of page
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Scale insects Pulvinariella mesembryanthemi and Pulvinaria delottoi were noted to be causing serious damage to the plant in California (Dahlsten and Hall, 1999). This was regarded as undesirable as the plant was being used as a roadside groundcover. Hence efforts were made to control the scale insects with insecticides and by biological control. These efforts were largely successful (Frankie and Hagen, 1986).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Seeds can be dispersed in animal droppings, as in rabbit and rat pellets (Bourgeois et al., 2005; Morzaria-Luna and Zedler, 2007). Passage through the gut of these and other mammals such as black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) also helps to enhance germination rates of C. edulis, though not of C. chilensis (Vilà and D'Antonio, 1998b).
Birds do not eat the fruits but gulls can assist spread by taking vegetative fragments as nesting material (Preston and Sell, 1988).
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Botanical gardens and zoos||Yes||Yes|
|Escape from confinement or garden escape||Yes|
|Garden waste disposal||Yes|
|Habitat restoration and improvement||Yes||Yes|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Cultural/amenity||Positive and negative|
|Environment (generally)||Positive and negative|
Environmental ImpactTop of page
The extensive vegetative growth of this plant leads to the formation of extensive impenetrable mats up to 50 cm deep, which may cover large areas, displacing native beach vegetation and preventing the establishment of native plants. In California, the plant poses a threat to several rare and endangered plant species. Soils under mats of this plant are becoming increasingly acidic (Weber, 2003; PIER, 2008).
Suehs et al. (2004a,b) conclude that both C. edulis and ‘C. acinaciformis’ should be considered as harmful invasive plants posing severe threats to native plant communities and ecosystems in the Mediterranean Basin, the former because of the flexibility of its mating system and high seed production, and the latter because of its strong clonality, high hybrid vigour, and potential for continued introgression.
Risk assessment for Australia is 9.5 (‘high’) (PIER, 2008).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
|Threatened Species||Conservation Status||Where Threatened||Mechanism||References||Notes|
|Baccharis vanessae (Encinitas baccharis)||NatureServe; USA ESA listing as threatened species||California||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011a|
|Chorizanthe pungens (Monterey spineflower)||NatureServe; USA ESA listing as threatened species||California||Competition (unspecified)||US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009|
|Eriodictyon capitatum (Lompoc yerba santa)||NatureServe; USA ESA listing as endangered species||California||Competition - monopolizing resources; Competition - shading||US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011b|
|Trifolium dichotomum (showy Indian clover)||EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); National list(s); USA ESA listing as endangered species||USA||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2008|
|Sterna antillarum browni (California least tern)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||California||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2006|
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Long lived
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Reproduces asexually
- Has high genetic variability
- Altered trophic level
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Modification of nutrient regime
- Modification of successional patterns
- Monoculture formation
- Negatively impacts cultural/traditional practices
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Soil accretion
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - shading
- Competition - smothering
- Competition (unspecified)
- Interaction with other invasive species
- Rapid growth
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
The main use of C. edulis is as an ornamental or ground cover plant in gardens, parks, and on roadsides. It has also been widely used to stabilise sand dunes and other unstable soil situations (Moretti, 1939).
The pollen of C. edulis is a particularly good food source for the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii and the weed may therefore make a beneficial contribution to the biological control of pests in citrus in Israel (Ragusa and Swirski, 1975). Similar studies on other mite species Amblyseius chilenensis, A. hibisci, A. limonicus, Typhlodromus athiasae, T. phialatus, T. occidentalis, Hypoaspis aculeifer, Euseius stipulatus also suggest comparable value (Swirski and Dorzia, 1969; Swirski et al., 1970; Ragusa et al., 1986; Ferragut et al., 1987; Reuveny et al., 1996).
It is used as a traditional medicinal plant (GRIN, 2008), some anti-cancer properties have been shown by methanolic extracts of C. edulis (Ordway et al., 2003); and also anti-bacterial properties (van de Watt and Pretorius, 2001).
In South Africa the astringent fruits are made into jam, pickle or chutney. The name Carpobrotus means ‘edible fruit’.
Uses ListTop of page
- Erosion control or dune stabilization
- Land reclamation
- Landscape improvement
- Soil conservation
- Botanical garden/zoo
- Propagation material
- Seed trade
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
C. chilensis is also a coastal species with rose-magenta flowers, differing from C. edulis in its glaucous, blue-green foliage and shorter leaves, 3-5 cm long. C. glaucescens also has mainly purple flowers but narrower leaves, less than 1 cm wide and the filaments and base of the petals are white (yellow in C. edulis var. chrysophthalmus).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Mechanical control of C. edulis is feasible, but has to be very thorough to ensure there are no stem nodes or fruits left from which regeneration can occur. The transport and disposal of the large masses of plant material may also offer serious logistical problems (Fraga et al., 2006).
The standard chemical treatment suggested by most sources is glyphosate, but high rates were found necessary in Portugal, where paraquat and simazine, and benzoylprop-ethyl also gave adequate control (Guerreiro, 1977).
GISP (2008) notes that options for biological control are limited. The plant may be damaged by Verticillium wilt but this can also harm many other crop species. Scale insects Pulvinariella mesembryanthemi and Pulvinaria delottoi believed to be introduced from South Africa, were noted to be causing serious damage to the plant in California (Dahlsten and Hall, 1999), but this was regarded as undesirable as the plant was being used as a roadside groundcover. Hence efforts were made to control the scale insecs by insecticide use and biological control. These efforts were largely successful (Frankie and Hagen, 1986). GISP (2008) comments ‘Nonetheless, scale insects have been observed to cause death of clones in California and could be more widely promoted in natural settings.’ In Australia, P. mesembryanthemi is said to be host specific to C. edulis (Collins and Scott, 1982).
ReferencesTop of page
Adamson RS, Salter TM, 1950. Flora of the Cape Peninsula. Capetown, South Africa: Juta.
Bourgeois K, Suehs CM, Vidal E, Médail F, 2005. Invasional meltdown potential: facilitation between introduced plants and mammals on French Mediterranean islands. Écoscience, 12(2):248-256. http://www.ecoscience.ulaval.ca
Collins L, Scott JK, 1982. Interaction of ants, predators and the scale insect, Pulvinariella mesembryanthemi, on Carpobrotus edulis, an exotic plant naturalized in Western Australia. Australian Entomological Magazine, 8(5):73-78
EPPO, 2014. PQR database. Paris, France: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization. http://www.eppo.int/DATABASES/pqr/pqr.htm
Ferragut F, Garcia-Marí F, Costa-Comelles J, Laborda R, 1987. Influence of food and temperature on development and oviposition of Euseius stipulatus and Typhlodromus phialatus (Acari: Phytoseiidae). Experimental and Applied Acarology, 3(4):317-329.
Fraga P, Estaún I, Olives J, Da Cunha G, Alarcón A, Cots R, Juaneda J, Riudavets X, 2006. Eradication of Carpobrotus (L.) N.E. Br. in Minorca. In: Invasive plants in Mediterranean Type Regions of the World [ed. by Brunel S] Strasbourg, France: Council of Europe Publishing, 289-297.
Frankie GW, Hagen KS, 1986. Ecology and biology of iceplant scales, Pulvinaria and Pulvinariella in California. California Department of Transportation Report No. FHWA-CA-HM-OZ [ed. by California Departmentof Transportation]. Sacramento, California: Division of Highway Maintenance.
Gomes CT, Draper D, Rossell A, 1999. Impact of Carpobrotus edulis (L. On the autochthonous vegetation of the protected area Reserva Natural das Berlengas (Portugal) [ed. by 5th International Conference Ecology of Invasive Alien Plants , October 13-161999]. La Maddalena, Sardinia, Italy: 5th International Conference Ecology of Invasive Alien Plants, 13-16 October 1999.
Guerreiro AR, 1977. Evaluation trials for herbicides to control hottentot-fig (Carpobrotus edulis (L.) N.E.Br.). (Ensaios de comportamento de herbicidas contra os choroes (Carpobrotus edulis (L.) N.E. Br.).) In: Proceedings II Simposio Nacional de Herbologia, Oeiras, 1976, 125-134.
Matthews S, Brand K, 2004. Africa invaded: the growing danger of invasive alien species [ed. by Matthews S, Brand K]. Cape Town, South Africa: Global Invasive Species Programme, 79 pp. http://www.gisp.org
Moretti O, 1939. Report on the fixation of dunes at the Florentino Ameghino Dune Station, Miramar, Province of Buenos Aires. (Reseña de los trabajos sobre fijación de dunas en el vivero dunícola " Florentino Ameghino ", de Miramar (Prov. de Buenos Aires).) Revista Argentina de Agronomia, 6:62-4.
Morzaria-Luna HN, Zedler JB, 2007. Does seed availability limit plant establishment during salt marsh restoration? Estuaries and Coasts, 30(1):12-25. http://estuariesandcoasts.org/journal/ESTU2007/ESTU2007_30_1_12_25.pdf
Ordway D, Hohmann J, Viveiros M, Viveiros A, Molnar J, Leandro C, Arroz MJ, Gracio MA, Amaral L, 2003. Carpobrotus edulis methanol extract inhibits the MDR efflux pumps, enhances killing of phagocytosed S. aureus and promotes immune modulation. Phytotherapy Research, 17(5):512-519.
Ragusa S, Swirski E, 1975. Feeding habits, development and oviposition of the predacious mite Amblyseius swirskii Athias-Henriot (Acarina: Phytoseiidae) on pollen of various weeds. Israel Journal of Entomology, 10:93-103.
Ragusa S, Zedan MA, Sciacchitano MA, 1986. The effects of food from plant and animal sources on the development and egg production of the predaceous mite Hypoaspis aculeifer (Canestrini) (Parasitiformes, Dermanyssidae). Redia, 69:481-488.
Schierenbeck KA, Symonds VV, Gallagher KG, Bell J, 2005. Genetic variation and phylogeographic analyses of two species of Carpobrotus and their hybrids in California. Molecular Ecology, 14(2):539-547. http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/rd.asp?code=MEC&goto=journal
Suehs CM, Médail F, Affre L, 2001. Ecological and genetic features of the invasion by the alien Carpobrotus plants in Mediterranean island habitats. In: Plant invasions: species ecology and ecosystem management [ed. by Brundu G, Brock J, Camarda I, Child L, Wade M] Leiden, Netherlands: Backhuys Publishers, 145-157.
Swirski E, Amitai S, Dorzia N, 1970. Laboratory studies on the feeding habits, post-embryonic survival and oviposition of the predaceous mites Amblyseius chilenensis Dosse and Amblyseius hibisci Chant (Acarina: Phytoseiidae) on various kinds of food substances. Entomophaga, 15(pt. 1):93-106 pp.
Swirski E, Dorzia N, 1969. Laboratory studies on the feeding, development and fecundity of the predaceous mite Typhlodromus occidentalis Nesbitt (Acarina: Phytoseiidae) on various kinds of food substances. Israel Journal of Agricultural Research, 19(3):143-145.
US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009. In: Monterey Spineflower (Chorizanthe pungens var. pungens). 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 21 pp.. http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/five_year_review/doc2393.pdf
US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011. In: Baccharis vanessae (Encinitas baccharis). 5-year Review: Summary and Evaluation. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 47 pp.. http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/five_year_review/doc3974.pdf
USDA-ARS, 2008. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx
CABI, Undated. CABI Compendium: Status inferred from regional distribution. Wallingford, UK: CABI
CABI, Undated a. CABI Compendium: Status as determined by CABI editor. Wallingford, UK: CABI
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008. Flora Europaea, Database of European Plants (ESFEDS). In: Flora Europaea, Database of European Plants (ESFEDS), Edinburgh, UK: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/FE/fe.html
USA, USDA-ARS, 2008. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. In: Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database, Beltsville, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/tax_search.pl
ContributorsTop of page
06/05/08 Original text by:
Chris Parker, Consultant, UK
Distribution MapsTop of page
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