We investigate a hypothesis for explaining maintenance of forest canopy dominance: bamboo (Guadua weberbaueri and Guadua sarcocarpa) loads and crushes trees, resulting in a self-perpetuating disturbance cycle. Forest inventory data revealed a peculiar pattern of tree form and size class distribution in bamboo-dominated plots within the Tambopata River watershed, Madre de Dios, Peru. Bamboo disproportionately loaded trees 5–29 cm in diameter, and this size class had over seven times more canopy damage than trees in control plots without bamboo. These differences were accompanied by reduced tree basal area and tree density in the 5–29-cm-diameter size class in the presence of bamboo. Elevated tree canopy damage was not apparent for trees ≥30 cm dbh, which are beyond the reach of bamboo. Additional evidence for the impact of bamboo was revealed by an experiment using artificial metal trees. Artificial trees in bamboo-dominated forest plots had nine times higher frequency of physical damage and nine times more plant mass loading as compared with control plots. Our results support the hypothesis that bamboo loading causes elevated physical damage to trees and suppresses tree recruitment, particularly for trees 5–29 cm in diameter.