The changes in agricultural practice during the last century resulted in high-input farming in lowlands and the abandonment of crop fields in marginally profitable mountain regions. In Switzerland abandoned fields were converted into grassland. These fields had a rich historical flora and the few still existing fields still belong to the most species rich. As many arable weeds produce persistent seeds, abandoned fields should have a high potential to promote rare and threatened arable plants if tilled again. To test this hypothesis we collected 21 soil samples down to 20 cm depth in each the centre and the border of 38 abandoned fields. The centre and border samples of each field were each pooled, and afterwards the present seeds washed out. These seeds were then sown in pots and germination monitored in a greenhouse during six months. A total of 119 plant species were identified. Of these, 48 species were typical arable weeds and only one was red listed in Switzerland. The number of arable weeds per former field was lower at higher altitudes. Hence, the surveyed meadows have a small potential to promote threatened arable weeds if tilled again. Likely, some seeds were no longer viable because the fields were not tilled for a too long. If on newly established conservation fields no threatened species grow spontaneously after a few years, the reintroduction of desired plant species should be considered. The source of the seeds should preferably be a nearby species pool.