Data are presented on the clinically relevant black yeasts and their relatives, i.e., members of the Ascomycete order Chaetothyriales. In order to understand the pathology of these fungi it is essential to know their natural ecological niche. From a relatively low degree of molecular variability of the black yeast Exophiala dermatitidis, potential agent of brain infections in patients from East Asia, it is concluded that this species is an emerging pathogen, currently going through a process of active speciation. It is found to be an oligotrophic fungus in hot, moist environments, such as steambaths. Cladophialophora-, Fonsecaea- and Ramichloridium-like strains, known in humans as agents of chromoblastomycosis, are frequently found on rotten plant material, but the fungal molecular diversity in the environment is much higher than that on the human patient, so that it is difficult to trace the etiological agents of the disease with precision. This approach has been successful with Cladophialophora carrionii, of which cells resembling muriform cells, the tissue form of chromoblastomycosis, were found to occur in drying spines of cacti. Phagocytosis assays provide a method to distinguish between pathogens and non-pathogens, as the killing rates of strict saprobes proved to be consistently higher than of those species frequently known as agents of disease. The therapeutic possibilities for patients with chromoblastomycosis are reviewed.